’80s Couch Surfing: The Karate Kid cartoon

Welcome back to ’80s Couch Surfing, a series in which I watch and review TV episodes of various series from the 1980s. Today’s entry is The Karate Kid (1989), an animated series that continued the adventures of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-San as they acted like Carmen Sandiego.

Anytime we latched on to a particular movie in the ’80s, there was always the hope that a TV studio somewhere might make a cartoon of it to feed our fandom. The Karate Kid trilogy ended up spawning such an animated series, although it was just a here-and-gone blip in the fall of 1989, ending after 13 episodes. I know I never saw it on TV, which is a shame, because I loved me some Karate Kid.

Today, let’s put aside Cobra Kai see what the FIRST television spin-off of the Karate Kid handled the material!

Episode 1: My Brother’s Keeper

So the premise of this series is that a magical family shrine was taken from the Okinawa, and instead of alerting the authorities, an old man and his college best bud have to travel the world to get it back. I guess they have unlimited funds now for such jetsetting adventures? Also, they get a female sidekick named Taki who really should’ve gotten her own series.

The opening theme is serviceable but kind of weird, as it’s a synth pop song laced with Japanese tones and people shouting “KA-RA-TE KID!” Also, Daniel-san is shown running on a torpedo during the intro, which I think might be a little outside the bounds of my belief.

The episode begins with the team rafting down a South American river. Daniel is doing all of the paddling, while Miyagi is giving him a non-stop litany of sage-sounding advice for the task and Taki is straight-up heckling him. I love Miyagi and all, but he needs to tone down the Ancient Wisdom for mundane life activities. “Daniel-san, ordering in a drive-thru is like a praying mantis stalking a butterfly. Look up, look down, and snatch that Number Five combo!”

Meanwhile in the nearby jungle, some kid is being run down by fierce looking warriors. He stops, pulls out a glowing pouch, and orders the birds to attack his foes.

Honestly, I’d love a bird-ordering pouch like this. I’d be using it ALL THE TIME to smite those who displease me. “Do your homework!” “No, Dad, we wanna play the Switch!” “MAGIC POUCH, TELL THE BIRDS TO PECK THEIR EYES OUT!” “No Dad noooo ahhhh!”

When the native kid is being cornered a second time, Daniel pops out of a bush and does a completely unnecessary front-flip before grabbing the dude’s spear. I have to imagine that it’s a little jarring to be about your daily business only to hear a scream and see a kid from California flipping right at you. Stories for the dinner table that night, am I right?

And then the second hunter will be like, “That’s nothing! Out of nowhere, this Japanese senior citizen comes swinging in on a vine and then jumps on my shoulders, covers my eyes, and says, ‘Guess WHOOOOO?'”

Miyagi allows himself to be captured and tells Daniel and Taki to “go!” Um, go where? They’re in the jungle without any resources. It’s not like there’s a HoJo down the block or anything.

They find that native kid who was being chased — Kala I think? — who makes Daniel (but not Taki) change into a loincloth. Daniel, you are the whitest kid who ever whited.

And now it’s FASHION MINUTE WITH CHIEF NOWA! What outfit do you have for us today, chief?

Well, he’s sporting a trendy jaguar headdress that’s chowing down on his skull, a bunch of tasty grape leaves around the wrist (for light snacking), and a necklace with the ingrown toenails of his vanquished foes.

Miyagi is not impressed, but whenever is he? For interfering in the tribe’s affairs, he’s sentenced to go hang out with the alligators or something. “This not a trial by my peers,” he says, earning a genuine chuckle from me. One point to the episode!

You’d think that the episode would have him rescued, but no — Miyagi goes down into the alligator pond and proceeds to choke out the beast. Because he’s AMAZING, that’s why.

So Miyagi tracks the kids back to Kala’s treehouse of shame, where he’s apparently been hiding the shrine. Ten minutes into the first episode, and the team has found their ultimate objective. I guess the subsequent 12 episodes will be the wrap party? And don’t get me started on how nobody explains how a rando South American kid got ahold of this device.

Then, for no real reason, Miyagi starts kicking and punching trees to chop them down, as one does when one is stuck in a jungle and needs to make a raft. We call this “Minecraft rules.”

The hunters come back and nearly skewer Daniel, but Miyagi flies in and goes, “boo!” They freak out and run, and Miyagi gets another great line: “Ha ha ha ha ha think Miyagi ghost.” Because of the alligator-murderin’, you see. Two points for the episode.

I kind of wish Daniel would put on pants, though. But no, he’s all about “teaching Kala balance,” something that Mr. My-raft-gi won’t do. Miyagi says that Daniel has “three days” to fully teach the kid karate or something, because at the end of that, the raft will be finished. Now, I know I’ve never made a raft, but the thing looked halfway done a couple of scenes before. How many nap breaks is Miyagi taking here?

Daniel’s idea of teaching includes jumping out of trees disguised as a leaf monster. He is not a good teacher. He is a bad teacher. DUDE PUT ON A SHIRT.

After winning a single fight, Kala decides he’s good enough to challenge Chief Nowa. But Daniel steals Kala’s makeup bowl (?) and says that he’s going in his place. Um, I don’t think that’s how it works, but you be you, you crazy California kid. In return, Kala digs up the shrine — great security there, Mr. Miyagi — and indicates he’s going to use its magic to help his new friend. Meanwhile, Miyagi is all doop-de-doop, painting a raft, ain’t it pretty.

OK. This is Daniel’s plan here, so follow me closely. He and Kala are wearing the same ridiculous cereal mascot outfits, Daniel’s going to fight the chief while hoping that nobody notices that he’s six shades whiter than everyone else. When he wins, he’ll switch places with Kala, and bing bang boom, Kala is chief or something.

None of this works, of course, and Kala and the shrine get captured while our heroes tuck and run like they’ve got an appointment with a Dancing with the Stars marathon. This is, however, the third time in the same episode that when Daniel’s in trouble, Miyagi suddenly appears via flying jump kick. Maybe he’s got a catapult located off-screen for such occasions.

Nowa uses the shrine that Miyagi is not too interested in retrieving to turn himself into a — why not — giant jaguar. Me? I’d wish for a shirt and maybe some air conditioning, but I’m a creature of comfort.

Out in the jungle, Miyagi uses a “time-honored technique” of tripping his pursuers. “Nice going, that’ll keep them for a while!” Daniel said. That’ll… keep them? How? They can just stand up and resume trying to murder your faces. Daniel puts way too much faith in gravity, I fear.

This brings us to the episode’s crowning moment of glory, when Miyagi kicks a human-turned-jaguar in the jaguar junk.

Kala shows up to use the shrine to turn the chief back into human form, but then somehow loses the shrine in the river. Taki, who is very ineffective this episode, tries to chase the shrine but trips and finds herself in the same gravity trap that the hunters fell into earlier.

Everything is pretty boring from here on out: Kala defeats the chief in mortal combat and gets to wear the dorky headdress. The crew sail down the river in search of that rascally shrine, and cue end credits. Oh, and Daniel finally put on a shirt again, although I like to think he kept his loin cloth for special occasions, like prom.

Did Cobra Kai have a man-on-jaguar fight? I think not. Winner: The Karate Kid Animated Series!

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