35 years ago, David Seeger wrote a rap with up to four rhymes about karate and the terrible things it does to your body. It was a bit tone deaf but totally earnest, extremely goofy, and ultimately harmless. I tracked him to the ends of the Earth to punish him for what he had done, because I am not your protagonist. There I discovered his whole family had a long and storied multi-generational career of making inexplicable crap just for me. Waiting. Just for me. Plunging headfirst into this obvious trap, I found a pilot for a children’s show called….
Like everything else David Seeger has done in his life, Sensei Rainbow and the Dojo Kids is so easy to make fun of that you actually feel bad for following through. It’s like pushing over a capybara: You basically have to do it, but let nobody see you struggling to get it done.
The pilot opens with cool kid Alex hopping up to impersonate the Sensei… only to realize he’s standing behind him. It’s a very old trope and Dojo Kids puts no spin on the gag… until Alex reaches back to verify what he elbowed, and his first instinct is to grab at crotch level and tug. We have established our stakes: These children desperately need the remedial self defense classes of Sensei Rainbow.
Sensei Rainbow is the anchor of this show, and I mean that literally. He is a heavy inanimate object built to sink to the bottom. He has no charisma, he acts with no joy, and he stands like a mannequin unsure if it should tell you your fly is down.
Sensei Rainbow delivers his lines like somebody making fun of an accountant who needs to live a little, but he dresses like he’s putting on a morality play for Russian children driven insane by licking radioactive paint. This is hard to internalize since Sensei Rainbow has the screen presence of too much styrofoam in a trash can, but he’s supposed to be a magical creature of wonder and whimsy.
The Dojo Kids ask Sensei Rainbow how he conducted this minor miracle through embarrassing hand vogues, and he explains that embracing karate encourages you to be what you were meant to be. And that’s true: If you take karate classes as a child, you were meant to be beaten up behind a 7-11 by the kids held back a year, and if you tell those huge children you know karate, you will truly embrace that destiny.
The children see this fortune cookie wisdom as an opportunity to sing a song about what they want to be when they grow up. Alex thinks he was “meant to be a rapper / cause I’m cool like that.” I added the slash so you know that was supposed to be a rap, because Alex gives us no other indicators.
Max says he wants to be a cowboy when he grows up because he said “Trans Am!” last time and the children laughed at his dream.
Abbie wants to be an astronaut, but Sensei Rainbow did not have the budget to convey that wish.
Then it’s Brandon’s turn. What does he want to be when he grows up?
Clearly Brandon is the villain of this piece, and had the show been picked up his inevitable betrayal at the end of Season 1 would see half of the Dojo Kids dead and Sensei Rainbow on a broken mission of revenge for Season 2.
All of this is encouraged. Sensei Rainbow treats Max’s cowboy fantasy like it’s just as valid and attainable as Michelle’s goal of being a doctor. Brandon doesn’t even list a passion, he just admits he wants to rule with an iron fist, and yet still Sensei Rainbow says “if you try, you can do anything!”
Because he’s a magic wooden idiot with no real ability to handle the children’s obvious mental health issues, Sensei Rainbow solves the problem with the only tool in his box: Sudden transition into poor karate.
This is not an instructive show. The children only dance to the tune of karate, while a full decade later, David Seeger once again tries to make the Karate Rap happen.
If for some reason you don’t have the lyrics of “Karate Rap” burned in your mind — if you don’t wake up in the night screaming them into your panicked wife’s face — then I don’t understand who you are as a human being, but here you go:
Ichi ni san shi
C’mon everybody train… karate!
Train your body
it’ll train your mind
David Seeger really thought he had something with up to two basic rhymes about liking karate, and he figured the only reason he wasn’t ruling the world through instructive raps is that he started with the wrong demographic. After one minute of mocking martial arts through dance, Sensei Rainbow calls it. Class is canceled. It’s time to sit quietly and meditate.
By which I mean watch the best rainbow effects that a Commodore 64 and fifteen minutes of sincere effort can muster:
If the whole show was just this, I wouldn’t bother mocking Sensei Rainbow’s uncomfortable child dance-off. But we are at the halfway point.
We are overdue for the turn.
When foolish children lose focus during meditation, Yin and Yang are freed from their cage to walk this world. They’re supposed to be our cute magical sidekicks, but they look like the things that torture betrayers in the lowest circle of Gumby hell. This is what people who are afraid of horses think horses look like without skin. That mad unblinking gaze is the last thing you see after telling Tom Cruise you want to leave Scientology.
The kids laugh uproariously at Yin and Yang’s appearance, because we all need a defense mechanism when our entire worldview crumbles in an instant. Then the dragons breathe fire:
And it opens a mass hallucination portal, allowing the meditating students to see into the minds of other damaged children. I’m not embellishing. I know that sounds like the episode when you stopped watching Twin Peaks, but that’s the actual mechanic we’re working with here.
This is Danny, and he is making that face on purpose.
Danny knows half of his lines but none in a row, and he delivers them like he really needs the paycheck but fears that the cameraman won’t know he’s above this role. It’s a weird mix of enthusiasm and biting sarcasm that comes across like an eight year old doing a solid Nic Cage impression through an ill-fitting retainer.
An offscreen woman encourages Danny to play basketball, so he leaps to his feet and charges the camera yelling “yeah fun, sure have fun! This the only ball big enough I handle,” and then eats a jawbreaker.
It is unclear what any of this means, other than it is way past time for Sensei Rainbow and the Dojo Kids to shift into their magical forms, which is probably not something you guessed they could do.
This show is like eight different shows and none of them are on speaking terms with one another. The Dojo Kids summon the powers of lightning and the sun to transition into… a new karate gi that is somehow even more likely to get them beat up than a regular karate gi.
They sing a song explaining that when Sensei Rainbow senses danger he “takes his dojo to-go.” This is because the dojo also gets a magical transformation sequence. It, in its entirety, consists of a single tarp folding itself up to be carried in a backpack.
Magic was not needed to do this. That tarp would just fit into that backpack with two minutes of light folding. This is the lamest misuse of magic powers since Sensei Rainbow karate’d a caterpillar into a butterfly – something it would have done anyway, if he had done nothing.
Then we jump to the Dojo Kids hitching a ride on Wallace and Gromit delirium tremens.
Only for the children to arrive at their new location via teleportation, thus rendering the dragon flight useless. Again, these are stolen thoughts from every show mashed into one and then rendered on a Lite Brite. They even yank the actual teleporter sound from the original Star Trek for this:
The kids make a huge deal about how they’re going to transform this ice cream shop into an enchanted dojo just for Danny.
The single tarp proceeds to unfold. No other changes. Welcome to Magic Town, Danny, population: You and a dropcloth.
Danny wanders in, sarcastically impressed that they put down sheeting over most of the floor before murdering him. Because, in a crazy twist for a children’s show, Danny actually does not trust this obvious serial killer and his child cult. So to prove this is on the level, they all start doing karate at him.
Danny is extremely not into it. In what is easily the most reasonable move of the show, he answers this display by saying “OKAY guess be going.”
More karate is needed.
Even the children are monstrously bored with the amount of shoddy karate they’re doing. The show makes no attempt to hide this. They linger on the Dojo Kids yawning hugely during the exciting karate montages.
Despite not wanting to participate in this from the jump, and then actually attempting to flee at the midpoint, the montage succeeds: By the end of it, Danny knows karate. Or rather, he has had karate forced upon his mind. It will be 200 years before humanity pens the laws banning this kind of psychic violation, and little Danny will never see justice for the Knowledge Assault he has just suffered.
To demonstrate his new abilities, Danny performs half a kata and a few spin kicks perfectly despite no prior training, then Sensei Rainbow tells him he also knows basketball now. He leaves out that Danny has lost all memory of sunshine and his parents have been replaced by a flawless layup, so Danny is happy about this news. Sensei Rainbow uses the magic dragons to wish for a basketball court, and all the Dojo Kids sing a song about how fucking dope Danny is at basketball now that he’s been brainjumped into a karate kult.
They tell him he can slam dunk now despite being 17 inches tall. They sing that he will make all of his free throws, and then finish by harmonizing “you can take our country to the gold!” Danny stands inside a burning ethereal American flag, picturing the basketball devastation he will now rain down upon his many, many enemies.
And then he takes his shot.
He is, of course, completely devastated.
All of these kids with magic powers showed up, demonstrated that they can implant skills in his brain, and promised him in no uncertain terms that karate magic fixed this problem.
Why do this to a child? It is so easy to disappoint a kid. Tell them there’s a puppy in a box and then, when they open it, explain that they did it wrong and the puppy was vaporized. You don’t need magic to hurt a child like this, you just need a cardboard box, ashes, and a dog collar.
It’s a fluke, the Dojo Kids say. Our magic gave you karate. Our magic is infallible. You just have to try again!
He whiffs it even worse. The children do not brush it off. They are openly disappointed and disgusted with Danny’s inferior body, which rejects the karate magic they wield so easily. They quite literally promised him he was an unrepentant basketball monster now. That he would dominate the world with basketball skills that would make grown men weep until they died of dehydration, and women eat their own babies just to spare them from witnessing a boy better at basketball than any other human will ever be at anything.
And then he had to eat shit in front of them. Twice.
Yes, Danny tries again. He does get it on the third try. The moral winds up being “keep trying, you’ll get better!” But that was never the lesson. You motherfuckers began this encounter by mystically infusing a kid with karate when he didn’t even want it. The lesson you set out to teach him was “karate gives you magic that can accomplish anything” and then that lesson ended with “Danny sucks so hard he can’t even do basic tasks with cheat codes on.”
As Danny turns to leave, confused and depressed by this unexpected musical betrayal, Sensei Rainbow karate-blasts a guaranteed asskicking onto his body.
There’s no sound in this gif, but you can actually see how sarcastically Danny says “wow… a rainbow belt.” He’s so mad about it. He couldn’t communicate his disgust any more clearly if he’d followed this up with “…I was going to throw myself in a sewer on the way home, but now my classmates will do it for me!”
That’s the whole story.
Danny has learned two important lessons — keep trying and you’ll get better; karate strangers will not honor their word — and the Dojo Kids are done. They wake from their trance (remember, this has all been a shared hallucination brought on by the toxic fumes of dragonfire) and the children file out to head home. Sensei Rainbow retires to his own domain:
He lives in the punching bag and fucking deactivates when the kids leave, like a soulless karate golem who ate a piece of paper that read “teach children not to trust men in robes.”
Let’s have Max take you out the only way 1996 knew how.