It's a pretty safe bet that at any particular moment in mid-'80s New Zealand, at least 50 per cent of the country was attempting the infamous crane kick from The Karate Kid.

The beloved 1984 movie was a global smash, but we really loved it in New Zealand, and the powerful nostalgia the movie still evokes is exploited very effectively in the unexpectedly awesome new sequel series Cobra Kai.

Cobra Kai is the first big proper swing from YouTube Red, the "premium" subscription streaming service currently available in the US, Mexico, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand (suck it, the UK!).

YouTube Red (not to be confused with RedTube, which you definitely shouldn't Google) has been around for a few years now, but its highest profile exclusive offerings have mostly involved existing YouTube stars like PewDiePie and Logan Paul, neither of whom anyone is clamouring to be associated with these days.


Cobra Kai is the first YouTube Red show that feels like it could've been on a more established streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime, indicating the company's intentions to be taken seriously in this arena. And hoo-boy is it something great.

Nostalgia for the '80s drives a lot of modern entertainment, and most of the resulting products are cheap cash-ins, but Cobra Kai sets itself apart by honouring the source material while acknowledging the passage of time.

It provides everything a Karate Kid fan could want in a follow-up, yet is also full of surprises, the first big one being that it turns out that Daniel LaRusso's championship winning crane kick was an illegal move. You can't just kick someone in the face like that, it turns out. It's like finding out that you really can feed a Mogwai after midnight.

The reveal is emblematic of Cobra Kai's biggest storytelling gambit: this contemporary-set follow up is told primarily from the perspective of Johnny Lawrence, the WASP-y bully bad guy from the first film, who is once again played by William Zabka. That Cobra Kai gets us to care about this iconic movie jerk is testament to its storytelling ability.

These days, Lawrence is a deadbeat dad who can't seem to escape the purview of his old nemesis Daniel (Ralph Macchio), now the owner of a chain of auto-dealerships in the San Fernando Valley, the setting of the first movie.

Lawrence sees a glimmer of hope in resurrecting Cobra Kai, the evil karate dojo he trained at in the first film under the ruthless Kreese (Martin Kove). Lawrence is inspired to re-open Cobra Kai when he rescues a local bullied teenager named Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) - their relationship mirrors the one between Daniel LaRusso and Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) in the original movie, with a couple of notable differences, the most glaring being that Lawrence is still kind of a giant tool.

Nevertheless, Miguel's storyline allows Cobra Kai to satisfy the Karate Kid-evoking narrative of a scrawny kid learning karate to defend himself from high school tormentors, even if Lawrence preaches more of a "strike first" mentality that Mr Miyagi ever did.

As the 10-episode series progresses, LaRusso becomes more central to the proceedings, taking on Lawrence's estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) as his own karate student.

There are plenty of call-backs to iconic moments from the original film, footage from which is used judiciously as flashback material that helps illustrate where both Johnny and Daniel are coming from.

In the realm of sequels that take on the villain's perspectives, Cobra Kai does a much better job than Maleficent, and unlike the Angelina Jolie film, doesn't need to contradict anything that came before to make the viewer care about Johnny Lawrence. Zabka is occasionally a little stiff, but there's a huge amount of pleasure to be had in seeing an actor take an inescapable supporting part and turn into the second-act role of a lifetime.

Macchio is fantastic, and his character eventually very much gets the due he deserves. You will remember just how much you cared about Daniel LaRusso. Even if he's a long way from being a kid.

Cobra Kai was clearly made by people who have a lot of affection for the original movie, and it comes through in every frame of the follow-up – this is '80s nostalgia done right.

In fact, Cobra Kai is so good it gives me hope that long-mooted follow-ups to other '80s classics like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Goonies or Midnight Run could actually be done well.

The first two episodes of Cobra Kai can be seen on regular YouTube, and the rest are available on YouTube Red, which offers a free month-long trial.