The five elders, classic version in One Piece
(Toei Animation)

‘One Piece’: What Is the Void Century?

To appreciate the context of the Void Century, you have to be familiar with the big players within the world of One Piece.

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Eiichiro Oda began Monkey D. Luffy’s journey in 1997. In the 27 years between then and now, One Piece has become so much more than a story of one boy’s journey to become King of the Pirates. For example, it explores what happens when you threaten the “official narrative” of a fascist government.

Yes, we are indeed still talking about the goofy pirate series. Pirates are chased by the Navy. The Navy is the military arm of The World Government. The World Government is a supposedly united front, representing about 170 countries, which exists to promote peace and justice around the world.

In reality, the World Government is incredibly corrupt. The slave-owning Celestial Dragons are just the most public-facing example of the World Government’s most exalted. While publicly giving off the air of democracy with the iconography of The Empty Throne, The World Government is secretly controlled by a shadow ruler named Imu. The Five Elders, the highest known authority to the public, are merely Imu’s pawns.

As such, the actual objective of the World Government is to keep Imu and the most privileged among its ranks in power. And there are two ways regimes typically do this, both in the real world and One Piece. One is intimidating shows of power and violence. Another is controlling information and rewriting history.

In One Piece, this takes the form of the World Government covering up what happened during a period of history referred to as the Void Century, violently.

Void Century 101: what we know we don’t know

Before the events of the Egghead arc significantly colored in our knowledge of the Void Century, here’s the absolute basics of what we knew for most of One Piece‘s run.

The Void Century refers to a period that began 900 years before One Piece’s main story. It ended 800 years ago, with the formation of the World Government.

What happened in those hundred years has been completely erased from the historical record by the World Government. All that’s known to the average denizen of the world of One Piece is that there was a huge war within those hundred years. The rulers of the 20 allied kingdoms that won the war created the World Government. These twenty sovereigns moved to the holy land of Marijoa and became World Nobles, a.k.a. Celestial Dragons. Their ancestors now enjoy absurd (and highly removed) privileges.

Some more savvy citizens might know a few other things. The 20 kingdoms waged war against a single kingdom. Sensing that the powers that would become the World Government would obstruct knowledge, that lone kingdom and its allies (like Wano) inscribed the history of the Void Century on indestructible stone blocks called Poneglyphs. The Poneglyphs were scattered throughout the Grand Line.

The Poneglyphs also contain information of the three Ancient Weapons: Pluton, Poseidon, and Uranus. The World Government says the possession of these three weapons gives one the power to destroy the entire world. Four coordinates on special Red Poneglyphs give the location of the legendary One Piece.

What happens when you research the Void Century?

The authorities very much want the events of the Void Century to stay unknown. Looking into the events of the Void Century is considered a grave crime, with the World Government wiping out the entire island where any research takes place, using an over-the-top Naval attack called a Buster Call. They show no hesitancy to kill civilians, in case they learned something from the researchers.

This cycle has played out a couple times over the course of One Piece. Brilliant archeologist Professor Clover hunted for the Poneglyphs. He then accumulated his knowledge on the island of Ohara, and his team of archeologists there came to a (very well-researched) hypothesis about the contents of the Void Century.

As a result, about 20 years prior to One Piece’s current story, the Navy ordered a Buster Call on Ohara. They sunk a ship loaded with the island’s civilians. The only person to escape, out of everyone who lived on Ohara, was an eight-year-old Nico Robin.

Once the Navy received intel that Dr. Vegapunk was also researching the Void Century, it sent a fleet of ships several times the size of a normal Buster Call to Egghead. One of the Five Elders went personally. As the most brilliant scientist alive, Dr. Vegapunk is a huge asset to the World Government. But simply the knowledge that he was researching the Void Century is grounds to kill him and everyone on the island.

Swiftly murdering everyone researching the Void Century kills not only the knowledge, but the method through which it’s obtained. Nico Robin is the only person alive in the entire world who can read Poneglyphs.

So what really happened …?

The Void Century has been one of One Piece’s biggest secrets. Ever since Oda introduced the first Poneglyph in the Alabasta arc over twenty years ago, fans have understood that revealing the truth of the Void Century would be like yanking the curtain back on the entire series.

One Piece has slowly added drips of information to broaden our understanding of what the Void Century might contain. Fish-Man Island’s Poneglyph introduced Joy Boy, who we’ve since learned was the previous wielder of the awakened version of Luffy’s Devil Fruit and left a message alongside the One Piece at the final island. There’s Noah, the giant ark in Fish-Man Island, which Joy Boy had hoped to help reach the surface. There’s some mysterious things on the moon. We’ve learned the “Great Kingdom” from the war possessed incredibly advanced technology.

Those drips have all led up to the Egghead arc. But the tale of what actually happened, versus how the World Government has presented and attempted to control the narration, is a story for whenever Dr. Vegapunk finally drinks his coffee.


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Author
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.