While it has nothing to do with a Japanese series, Netflix’s Cobra Kai is the closest thing to a good live-action anime adaptation yet.
As Netflix itself acknowledged by making a Cobra Kai anime opening sequence, the show about the legacy of Karate Kid has more in common with Japanese anime series than most live-action anime adaptations. Cobra KaiThe return of ended in style in 2021, because Karate Kid 3Terry Silver of joined the fight for the soul of karate from across the valley in a season full of twists and turns and telling moments. As newcomers and established characters fought their inner fears as well as their adversaries, Cobra Kai season 4 managed to retain the best qualities of the series while adding new elements to the mix. Even with these changes, Cobra Kai still contains many features that make it look like a good live anime could be.
Over the years, the challenge of making a good cohesive and somewhat faithful live-action adaptation of an anime series that appeals not only to viewers of the original work but to the general public seems to become even more difficult. last year’s netflix cowboy bebop suffered from mixed reactions and joined the long list of failed live-action anime adaptations when it was canceled after just one season. Other Hollywood productions such as those of 2017 Death threat went through similar challenges creating their own identity while trying to maintain the core elements of what makes an anime an anime. Curiously, a show that has little to do with Japanese series might have the answer.
Cobra Kai is not an easy show to label. The production mixes elements ranging from classic 80s action movies to the most dramatic soap operas, but there are a few points that stand out. The universe takes itself more seriously than that of the Karate Kid the movies did, but not as seriously as most shows today. This makes it a unique series that can hardly be compared to other live productions. However, compared to the overall feeling of an anime, the similarities are not easy to miss. Themes of rivalries, masters and apprentices, special techniques, training arcs, power-up flashbacks are some of the many anime tropes quickly noticed in Cobra Kai. Even the pace of Cobra Kai the episodes, which usually end with a “hype moment” cliffhanger, resemble that of an anime series.
Each time a new student begins training under one of the many Cobra Kai senseis, the series takes a route familiar to anime audiences. The “training arc”, in which not much happens except for the central character who struggles to master a new technique to use it perfectly at a crucial moment later, is found in both classics as Dragon Ball Z or new tubes like my hero academia. From Johnny and Daniel’s decades-old feud to Tory and Sam’s ever-growing opposition, rivalries are another element present in both Cobra Kai and in the most famous anime. The relationship between the Cobra Kai the duos pretty much follow the same playbook as other pop culture icons such as Naruto and Sasuke or Goku and Vegeta.
At a time when many live-action anime adaptations struggle to connect with audiences the way the original Japanese series did, Cobra Kai may have something to teach. The series not only highlights famous anime tropes and elements that can work in an American production, but also how to play those elements in a way that organically engages viewers. More thanks to the overall vibe of the show than anything else, Cobra Kai may be the closest thing to a good anime adaptation yet.
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