One Piece is one of the most beloved anime in history, but at over 1,000 episodes, it’s tough for those who haven’t been watching from the start to jump on board. One Piece Diaries tracks one writer’s experience with this daunting rite of passage. With hype for the highs and critique for the lows, this column will help you decide whether to take your own One Piece journey – or let you relive the one you’re already on. It will update biweekly every other Thursday.
Episodes Watched: 271 – 278 – Enies Lobby Arc
I’m back from my trip and ready to talk about Robin’s backstory.
I already had some inkling of what was coming – as I’ve mentioned before, my work at Ranker requires me to read spoilers for a lot of series, particularly popular ones like One Piece. But having an approximate idea of what was coming didn’t take away from the emotional impact.
Here’s a run-down. Robin grew up on an island called Ohara. At first, she lived with her mother, an archaeologist who risked her life to discover the Poneglyphs. After her mother left for a dangerous mission, Robin ended up living with relatives who mistreated her. Not only that, but thanks to her Devil Fruit everyone else in town found her creepy. Her only solace was in the other archaeologists at the Tree of Knowledge. Working with them, she actually became an archaeologist herself – and learned how to read Poneglyphs, a still that would make her one of the most wanted criminals in the world.
Because the archaeologists at Ohara were researching Poneglyphs, the World Government showed up and destroyed the place. They burned the Tree of Knowledge, killed the researchers, and destroyed the entire island after evacuating the civilians. Robin survived with help from both Saul D. Jaguar and Kuzan. Saul was a giant who Robin befriended. He once worked for the Marines but ended up defecting because he thought destroying a whole island for trying to learn about history was a repugnant goal. Kuzan froze him, possibly to death, as he tried to protect her. But Kuzan helped Robin escape the island for reasons that are still unclear.
While she leaves the island alive, she finds it nearly impossible to survive after that. Any adult she tries to rely on ends up nearly turning her in for the huge bounty on her head. Eventually, she starts working with pirates, and then Crocodile, never once finding anyone she can trust. That is until she meets the Straw Hats.
When the flashback ends, Robin begs Luffy and the other Straw Hats to let her die. She says that she loves being with them but if she stays with them, they’re doomed to be hunted by the World Government forever. None of them care. They declare that if the world is Robin’s enemy, then the world is their enemy too. They prove it by setting the World Government’s flag on fire. Thanks to this, Robin is finally able to say that she wants to live and she wants Luffy to take her back to the sea.
The whole thing was emotionally devastating. Seeing Robin moving from trauma and isolation to accepting her place in a group that loves her was deeply moving. Seeing Luffy and the others willingly make enemies of one of the most powerful organizations in the world was equally so.
That’s one thing I really love about One Piece – and it’s something that I don’t love about Naruto. Sorry to those of you who aren’t familiar with Naruto, but I’m going to make a comparison here. In Naruto, many characters go through this sort of thing. In some ways, Robin’s arc reminded me of Sasuke’s. Like Robin, Sasuke lost everyone he ever loved in a devastating event. For a long time, he blamed it on his brother – the person who actually did kill his clan. But eventually, he learned that it was the Konoha government’s fault. When he turned against the Konoha government, this made him a villain.
To achieve healing and happiness, he had to start supporting the same city that destroyed his family. Sure, the guy who actually did it and his secret organization had been destroyed, but the larger system still existed, and Sasuke became a key part of it. No one ever really acknowledges the impact of what he went through or validates his feelings about it. His anger is considered toxic, not justified. I hate that for him.
In One Piece, that kind of resolution would never fly. Robin’s healing comes from defying the organization that hurt her, and from her friends who do the same. There’s no compromising or becoming the thing you despise. I like this resolution a lot better. The message is one of real resistance, not acquiescing to the status quo. Robin should defy the government and her friends are going to help her do it. I love that for her.
One question that I had that this arc didn’t answer was how Robin got her Devil Fruit in the first place. I hope they’ll eventually tell that story. Did she know what it was when she ate it? How did she find it in the first place? Did one of the archaeologists give it to her?
It would be interesting to know because the message of the arc is making sacrifices in pursuit of knowledge. Eating a Devil Fruit is full of risks. Many of their effects are completely unknown. But what Robin and the other archaeologists value most is knowledge. They deliberately try to decipher the Poneglyphs despite this being forbidden by the government and despite the fact that they supposedly contain the instructions to create an ancient weapon. They aren’t trying to create this weapon, but they want to know what the Poneglyphs say. Likewise, they probably would support eating a Devil Fruit to uncover its mysteries, even if it were dangerous – though they probably wouldn’t have wanted a young child like Robin to be the one to take the risk. I really want to know what the story is there.
Sadly, that amazing series of episodes is going to be followed up by a bunch of recaps about the characters’ backstories. If I weren’t writing this column I would skip those episodes entirely. But who knows, maybe they’ll surprise me and actually contain some interesting content. I’ll let you know in two weeks!
For more of my work, check me out at Ranker, at Medium, on Twitter @annalindwasser and @sinistealatte, and on my website annalindwasser.com. If you like my writing and want to support me further, you can donate to my Ko-Fi.