The show follows grown-up Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as they navigate the landscape of adult life, reconnecting with their karate roots and with their past rivalry with each other. Despite the fact that Cobra Kai is part of a franchise “rooted in and deeply indebted to Eastern tradition,” Jen Yamato of the Los Angeles Times noted that “after 30 episodes on two platforms, ‘Cobra Kai’ has yet to cast an Asian lead.”
Yamato is not the only critic to have noticed the whiteness of a show dedicated to Asian martial arts. “The thing I’d like to see them do is to go beyond this suburban idyllic space, this white pocket dimension, more deeply,” wrote Jeff Yang, writer and podcaster at Quartz. “What if they actually did encounter people who embraced martial arts not just to overcome bullying, but because it’s part of a larger tradition that exists within people of color communities?”
“Danny LaRusso, Italian kid from Jersey, is the most Japanese character on this show,” wrote Sonia Saraiya at Vanity Fair in response to a scene where Japanese American character Kyler refuses sashimi offered by Danny, claiming that he prefers fish sticks.
Writers of the show Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have acknowledged these criticisms, confirming that the inclusion of Asian characters in future seasons “is definitely something that is in our plans going forward,” Los Angeles Times reports.
They have also noted that while there are no Asian writers on staff, they have drawn upon the expertise of Asian actors in the cast like Tamlyn Tomita (Kumiko) and Yuji Okumoto (Chozen Toguchi) and The Karate Kid screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen for details on Japanese culture and Gōjū-ryū karate, the foundation for the show’s Miyagi-Do style.
“Each season as we’re writing, we’re looking for new underdog stories and new characters to populate the universe,” said Heald, Los Angeles Times reports. “We always have our eye towards representing today’s society as richly and as accurately as possible.”
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