The Mandalorian series has quickly carved itself a place in the zeitgeist of mainstream pop culture. It’s not just the Baby Yoda memes either, the show is an undeniable hit on its own merits. However, since the first episode and with each passing chapter I’ve noticed its undeniable roots in not only Star Wars mythology, but in anime.
That’s not too surprising. The Mandalorian is the most faithful continuation of George Lucas’ original vision for the franchise, and Lucas was heavily inspired by Eastern philosophy and entertainment. It’s no secret that his original trilogy took stylistic and tonal cues from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai. Everything from the feudal samurai-inspired design of Darth Vader, to robots like R2D2 that look like repurposed Space Battleship Yamato characters, and even the very concept of the Force seemingly has origins in Japan.
True to tradition, The Mandalorian‘s spaghetti western in space theme also bears some resemblance to Japanese TV shows. Some of the overlaps seem coincidental, like its occasional Cowboy Bebop vibes, while others feel much more intentional. Case in point, Goblin Slayer.
While set in totally different locales, Goblin Slayer and The Mandalorian have so many similarities it’s almost impossible to imagine the creative team behind The Mandalorian wasn’t inspired by the light-novel-turned-anime.
The most obvious similarity is between the titular protagonists for each show. Goblin Slayer and the Mandalorian are both essentially nameless heroes. Sure, they have some nicknames thrown around from time to time, but other than that their identities are completely secret.
They also both hide their faces behind helmets. Whenever they do happen to remove their helmets, their faces are still never shown on-screen, increasing the aura of mystery that surrounds them.
Additionally, they both share a remarkably similar backstory. Both have tragic childhoods wherein their home village was under attack as their family and friends were either tortured or outright killed. These experiences shaped both the Goblin Slayer and Mandalorian into the men they grew up to be. And they both grew up to be very similar men.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice they’re both bounty hunters. They both complete missions assigned by a guild and are extremely focused on completing their missions as efficiently and professionally as possible. They’re both very relatively quiet and only speak when necessary. When they do speak, they’re usually succinct and to-the-point. As such, they both prefer to work alone. That is, until their hidden emotions get the better of them and they select unlikely partners to join them.
Honestly, I could probably go on for hours about the strong parallels between the two characters, but you get the point.
The fact that both characters headline a fantasy-driven series is just icing on the cake, with one being set in a medieval-type location and the other being set in space (albeit Goblin Slayer does have some Stargate shenanigans going on). This fantasy backdrop allows both shows to feature various races and creatures. While Goblin Slayer has a mythical race of Lizard-like humanoids and giant goblins, The Mandalorian has space walruses and dog-like alien invaders.
It may sound like I’m calling The Mandalorian a copycat, but I actually don’t consider it to be one. All art is derivative of something that preceded it. We usually only call something a rip-off depending on its quality. The worse the quality, the more its unoriginality negatively affects it because it feels like an inferior product riding on the coattails of something better. But if it can be inspired by other media while creating a quality product that develops an identity of its own, then the similarities it shares with pre-existing art becomes less like a shameless clone and more of a natural continuation of a similar concept.
It’s important to note that the Mandalorian character himself is based on Star Wars alumni like Boba Fett who existed decades before Goblin Slayer arrived on the scene.
It’s also important to note that some of the most beloved Japanese pop culture milestones are derivative of American media. In fact, one could argue that the iconic large and glossy eyes that have become a trademark of nearly all anime are directly influenced by Osamu Tezuka, one of the pioneers of modern anime who was in turn inspired by the doe-eyed designs of Walt Disney movies like Bambi. Disney ended up returning the favor by releasing the adventures of Simba in The Lion King years later, a movie that feels like a twin of Tezuka’s own Kimba the White Lion series.
The web of influences aren’t just limited to movies. Nintendo’s video game mascot Mario started out as a Popeye clone before evolving into the plumber we know today. While Popeye found strength to rescue Olive Oyl from Bluto by chowing down on cans of spinach, Mario grabbed mushrooms to power up against Bowser and save Princess Peach. Heck, the entire Donkey Kong character is a direct namesake of King Kong. The similarity was so blatant that Universal Pictures even took Nintendo to court over it. Now, Universal and Nintendo are teaming up to build a theme park together.
The point is, The Mandalorian isn’t the first property to seemingly be derivative of another, and it certainly won’t be the last. But, if we’re being honest, it is one of the best.