Nico Robin is the show’s most underrated character
by Eichiro Oda A piece has a massively sprawling cast, from main protagonist Monkey D. Luffy and his loyal Straw Hat Pirates to villainous Kaido and his Beast Pirate legions. But while the most popular characters in the A piece fandom tend to be the strongest warriors, one of the show’s best-written characters is a hero who prefers to think about combat: the Straw Hats’ resident archaeologist, Nico Robin.
Robin is introduced during the Alabasta Saga as the villainous Sir Crocodile’s right-hand man, but she also saves Luffy at various times, making it unclear whether she is an enemy or an ally. It is eventually revealed that Robin was working for Crocodile in order to gain access to the Alabasta Poneglyph – an ancient stone monolith that contains hidden knowledge written in a forgotten language. But when Crocodile leaves Robin for dead, she decides to hide out on the Straw Hats’ ship and asks to join their crew.
Understandably, the Straw Hats are unwilling to let an enemy join their ranks, but Luffy trusts Robin without hesitation after being saved by her several times. Although Robin doesn’t play a major role in the following Skypeia arc, she does get the opportunity to show off her skills as a fighter, not to mention her passion for archeology and uncovering ancient secrets. But in the brief arc that follows, the Straw Hats are confronted by Aokiji, one of the extremely powerful Navy Admirals, who seems to have a history with Robin. The Straw Hats manage to narrowly escape Aokiji’s clutches, but he leaves them with a word of warning: wherever Robin goes, disaster is sure to follow.
What follows is the Water 7 saga, in which the truth about Robin’s past is revealed. In the floating city of Water 7, Robin is captured by Cipher Pol 9, the World Government’s elite assassin team. The Straw Hats pursue CP9 to the world government stronghold of Enies Lobby, but Robin begs her teammates to abandon her: she would rather sacrifice her own life than watch her comrades die trying to save her. After all, challenging the world government is tantamount to declaring war on the entire planet. At this point, the usually calm and collected Robin bursts into tears – and as she hits her lowest point, Oda finally reveals how Robin’s story began.
In a flashback, Robin is shown to have been born on Ohara, an island that is home to the largest library in the world. Daughter of archaeologist Nico Olvia, Robin grew up spending all her time in the library, with her mother’s colleagues as her only companions. However, when Robin decided she wanted to pursue her mother’s dream of discovering the secret history recorded on the poneglyphs, she was reprimanded by her elders for meddling in forbidden knowledge. After being banished from the only place she felt at home, Robin soon found a new friend in the form of castaway giant Jaguar D. Saul, who encouraged a discouraged Robin to laugh through life’s difficulties.
However, tragedy soon struck. In truth, Saul was a deserter from the Marines, who was heading to Ohara to kill Olvia for studying the Poneglyphs. But by the time Saul realized where he was, it was too late. CP9 raided the library, discovered a hidden poneglyph there, and ordered the Marines to burn down the entire island – the possibility of a single person discovering the truth behind the world’s secret history posed a threat to the world government. Saul rushed Robin to safety on Olvia’s behalf, only to be killed by a young Aokiji. But in his final moments, Saul gave Robin one last laugh, stating that she would one day find friends again. Touched by Saul’s sacrifice, Aokiji took pity on Robin and helped her escape.
Since then, Robin has grown into one of the world government’s most infamous fugitives: the so-called “Devil’s Child”, whose very existence was a threat to the world order. She turned to piracy to survive, betraying crew after crew to protect herself from the World Government. But after spending so much time just looking after herself, Robin couldn’t bear to see the Straw Hats – the only crew that ever really cared for her – die for her. However, Luffy refused to let his teammate ruin his life. He asked Robin what she really wanted: to die in the World Government, or to live alongside her crew? And in one of the show’s most iconic moments, she gives her answer: “I want to live!” Take me to sea with you!
After spending her whole life being hated for existing, all because she dared to seek out the truths the World Government kept secret, Robin had resigned herself to the idea that she didn’t deserve to live. But thanks to Luffy, she found a crew who saw that her life had meaning – and thanks to them, she found the will to live again. Ever since the Battle of Enies Lobby, Robin has been one of the most loyal members of the Straw Hat Pirates, determined to protect the crew that rescued her.
But while Robin has arguably fallen out of the limelight since the Water 7 saga, she’s arguably one of the most important Straw Hats. Her story connects her to some of the most important figures in the world. A piece world, from CP9 to Marine Admirals. Even Jaguar D. Saul, despite being long dead, has greater significance – his initial designates him as the bearer of the mysterious “Will of D.”, as does Monkey D. Luffy and other major characters like Marshall. D. Teach, aka Blackbeard, and even the late Pirate King Gol D. Roger. And of course, his dream of uncovering the world’s secret history gives him an active role in solving one of the show’s biggest mysteries. Plus, it gives him a very personal grudge against the World Government, arguably the manga’s ultimate antagonistic faction.
And of course, it would be a shame not to mention how Oda writes Robin’s personality. Despite being one of the most mature and intellectual Straw Hats, she is just as eccentric and quirky as her more colorful teammates. Robin has a very dark sense of humor and often finds terrifying monsters lovable. She even exhibits an imagination just as weird as Luffy on occasion. But above all, Robin is a truly compassionate person who cares deeply about the people around her. Even back when she was an aloof assassin, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for Luffy. And thanks to her time with the Straw Hats, she went from dark and aloof to friendly and upbeat. But to anyone who threatens her crew, she’s more ruthlessly deadly than ever.
Nico Robin’s story is one of loss, redemption, friendship and hope. She may have once seen herself as a monster, but thanks to Luffy and the other Straw Hats, she has become a true hero who will fight against the whole world to protect those she loves. Though she’s not the Straw Hats’ strongest fighter, Robin still stands above the crowd in a series filled with masterfully written characters.
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