And that got me thinking about why Nico Robin is so damn awesome.
Let's review: When Nico Robin was three years old, her mother, Nico Olvia, left her in the care of her nasty aunt while she embarked on a dangerous mission to circle the globe, searching for the elusive Poneglyphs: ancient texts left behind by a dead civilization, describing long-forgotten history. The deciphering of Poneglyphs is illegal under the World Government's laws, and is punishable by death, so Olvia needed to cut all ties with those around her to protect them.
Robin's aunt was a horrible old woman, so the next five years of her life were spent in Cinderella-esque subservience. In addition, at some point in there she ate a Devil's Fruit, and the weird powers it granted her made her an outcast from the other children. Her only friends were her mother's colleagues: Professor Clover and the other Archaeologists who kept the library inside the Tree of Knowledge, her home island of Ohara's pride and joy. They gave her the run of the place, and taught her all they knew, so that at the very young age of eight years old she was an accredited archaeologist. Secretly, she also learned (by spying on them) how to read the poneglyphs. She found another friend in Jaguar D. Saulo, a (unbeknownst to her) former Marine Vice-Admiral who defected, and then washed up on Ohara's beach. Everything was hunky dory.
Then the World Government's agents showed up.
They find evidence that the scholars of the Tree of Knowledge were deciphering poneglyphs, and in a single day everything Robin has ever known is gone. Ohara is destroyed, crushed by the fire of a sustained bombardment by ten Marine battleships. Nothing is left standing. Nobody was left alive: the evacuation ship that was to carry the civilian population away was sunk by Vice-Admiral Sakazuki, in order to be sure that none of the archaeologists escaped. Robin had a brief reunion with her mother before Olvia forced her to flee with Saulo. Saulo fought to protect her, but was killed by an old friend of his: Vice-Admiral Kuzan, who later becomes Admiral Aokiji. The only reason--and I mean the ONLY reason--that Robin survived was because Kuzan defied orders to secretly assist her escape, out of respect for his friendship with Saulo.
We meet her twenty years later. That's twenty years of being chased and hounded by World Government agents, of being betrayed by everyone around her, of having a seventy-nine million Beli bounty (a substantial Bounty even for a fully grown pirate: When Luffy was assessed as the most dangerous pirate in East Blue, his bounty was only thirty million) that everyone wanted to cash in on. She joined up with various criminal organizations, and then either betrayed them or was betrayed by them when the World Government came knocking, because that's what she needed to do to survive.
Can you imagine? From the time you are eight years old--eight years old--you are entirely alone. Oh, there might be people around you, but they aren't your friends: they're either a tool you're using to get what you need, or they're using you and you're letting them because as long as you're useful to them, they can provide some measure of security. I can't think of any better word to describe this life than 'Hell'.
Small wonder, then, that when a boat full of real friends came along twenty years later, she didn't recognize them for what they really were until it was almost too late.
Everything came to a head in the Water 7 arc, when Robin chose to sacrifice herself to save the rest of the crew from the fate that befell her homeland. When the Buster Call, the weapon that destroyed Ohara, was leveled against those she had come to think of as actual friends, she was too afraid of it to think for even a moment that they could survive it, and so she gave herself up willingly in exchange for it being turned away.
But when the Straw Hat Pirates said 'fuck that noise, we're bringing her back' and stormed the gates of one of the Marines' strongest fortresses, it was revealed that there was a second reason for Robin leaving the crew:
The thought of being betrayed again, this time by the people she truly cared about, was too much for her to bear. But it seemed inevitable to her: after all, she'd just endured twenty years of loss and betrayal. For two decades, everyone she had come across, even if they'd been nice to start with, had eventually cracked under the World Government's pressure and turned on her. How could she expect any differently from the Straw Hats?
OK, so, it's pretty obvious where the angst associations come from. But what about the rest of it? After all, you'd think an angst ball like her, that'd be the first thing to come to the surface.
But it's not, and here's why: Robin was stronger than it. She endured twenty years of sheer, unadulterated hell, and she never forgot who she was. She never forgot the dream she and her mother had shared, of finding the suppressed account of the Void Century, which was hidden on Poneglyph somewhere in the Grand Line. She never forgot what Saulo had taught her about laughing when you feel like crying, and she never forgot the promise he made to her as he lay helpless, waiting for Kuzan to finish him off: that nobody is born into this world to be completely alone. Without fail, one day, friends who would protect her would appear. She just had trouble seeing them for what they were until they made it dramatically clear that they would stand by her come what may by declaring war on the largest, most powerful organization in the world.
The fact that she survived her ordeal makes her one of the strongest characters I've ever seen. The fact that she overcame her own crippling, deeply ingrained fears, placed on her by years of trauma, makes her one of the most admirable. And the fact that she did it herself makes her one of the most inspirational.
'But Peter,' I hear some of you say, 'She didn't do it on her own! The rest of the crew was there to help, remember?'
True enough, as it goes. But do you remember that speech Vivi made right before she parted ways with the other Straw Hat Pirates? I don't know if Oda did this on purpose, or if it's just a result of him being a mad genius and remaining thematically consistent throughout over a decade's worth of content, but everything she says in this applies exactly to Robin. Vivi could very well have been talking about Robin, and if you ignore the time paradox, it all makes sense:
That ship will always find its way out of the darkness, an unbelievable ship indeed. It's as if it was dancing, sailing through gigantic waves. Even though it seems like they're just drifting, they only go forward, even against the wind. And in the end, it will raise its finger, and say: 'Look! There's a light!'"
The crew of the Going Merry pointed the light out to her.
She reached out and grabbed it on her own.