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Soundtrack review: Cobra Kai (Zach Robinson and Leo Birenberg – 2018)


Soundtrack review: Cobra Kai (Zach Robinson and Leo Birenberg – 2018)



“Cobra Kai” is an American comedy-drama web television series based on The Karate Kid film series created by Robert Mark Kamen that premiered on May 2, 2018 on YouTube Red. The television series takes place 34 years after the original film and follows the reopening of the Cobra Kai karate dojo by Johnny Lawrence and the rekindling of his old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso. The series was created by Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald and stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, reprising their roles from the films. Zach Robinson and Leo Birenberg wrote the score.

It’s needless to say what a nostalgia trip this show is and how happy I am that they did it like this, compelling, fresh, instead of only leaning on the nostalgia factor. They found the right way to continue the story and make it count. Of course for me a score for a TV show like this comes with varied and high expectations both as a Karate Kid fan and as a martial arts films fan. The score opens with “Awake the snake” and as soon as those retro synth vibes start caressing my ears, followed quickly by percussion and an awesome 80s sounding electric guitar I know I’m in for a treat. “Rocky IV” jumps to mind first, then other fighting movies I adored. This is the sound I was looking for and “Awake the snake” goes straight to my motivational running playlist.

“Miyagi memories” is the next piece that gets to me instantly; it’s a reflective, quiet piece, with those tender Asian inserts that evoke for me the peacefulness of a misty lake, of meditation. It’s a nice musical flashback of a beloved character. It’s only a small break as “Strike first” returns to the raw 80s sound that makes me want to get up from my chair and step in the ring. This is just the perfect mix and balance of all the elements that make a compelling martial arts cue: choir chanting, powerful guitar and a bit of synth.

“Cobra Kai”, in the tone of the show, goes for joyful nostalgia, for developing and expanding this emotion rather than for the sad, melancholic side of nostalgia; the music itself, even without seeing the show, lets me know that this is not just a remembrance, that things go on and life is breathed back into the story. The score is also much more complex than just an echoing of the 80s martial arts sound; the tonality varies and we also get a serious and gripping action cue like “The All-Valley tournament” in between shots of choral and guitar adrenaline.

Of course for me all bets are off when a piece like “Slither” comes along, as there is hardly any cue as perfect as this one to take me back to my childhood when all I saw were martial arts movies and all I dreamed of where heroic comebacks like the ones they depicted. I cannot describe the pure joy that fills me when I hear a cue like this, the motivation, the wave of warmth that takes me over from inside and transforms me into a superhero. It’s just one of the gems that make this score a must listen.

“Cobra Kai” is everything an 80s kid and fan of the franchise and genre could have asked from a score. Zach Robinson and Leo Birenberg must be fans as well as they couldn’t have captured this unique blend of heroism, action,nostalgia and meditation otherwise. Do not miss this one.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Awake the Snake
Miyagi Memories
Strike First
Father and Son
A Badass Name for a Dojo
Cobra Guy
Speak Up, Lip
You Earned It
Bonsai Lessons
The Wrong Path
The Cobra and the Mongoose
No Mercy
King Cobra

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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