Despite losing out to Naruto in the U.S. and much of the western world, One Piece is still the most popular manga series of all time. Full of action, drama, and adventure, the series has lasted for twenty years under the meticulous eye of Eiichiro Oda. Oda’s world is one in which “Devil Fruits” grant magic powers and nearly every kind of creature can co-exist. It also has a much more interesting power dynamic than many series I’m used to.
Before getting into this, though, you should be familiar with a few of the institutions in the One Piece universe:
- World Government (WG): Led by the Five Elders, the WG are the main controllers of law and order for the various islands and nations in One Piece. Their primary enforcers are the Marines, though they have been known to use secret agents such as Cipher Pol 9 (CP9) or even other pirates to accomplish their goals. The WG sets the bounties on outlaws based on their danger to either the public or the world order.
- Seven Warlords of the Sea: The Seven Warlords are pirates sanctioned by the WG to keep peace and order in their respective domains. Warlords have their bounties thrown away, and are typically chosen for their underworld influence and combat ability, among other factors. While they are not above the law, the WG looks the other way in return for their loyalty in times of war — especially against other pirates. Many of the Warlords have entire island nations at their disposal.
- Four Emperors: Unlike the Warlords, the Four Emperors are extremely dangerous pirates with no ties to the WG — nor to each other. Where many Warlords have single nations, all four Emperors have entire fleets of ships and several nations at their disposal. A single Emperor is said to have the capacity to challenge the Marines and the authority of the WG. Some Emperors were previously Warlords before striking out on their own once more.
- Supernovas: Supernovas are rookie pirates with a bounty of at least 100 million “Berries” (the currency of the series). Several Warlords and Emperors previously held this status. A specific group of supernovas, including Monkey D. Luffy and Roronoa Zoro of the Straw Hat Pirates, came to be known as the Worst Generation due to their being constant threats to the world order.
- Revolutionary Army: Unlike the pirates, who are mostly trying to get rich, Monkey D. Dragon’s revolutionary army are interested in overthrowing the WG. As such, they tend to directly engage the Marines and liberate islands from the Government’s grip. Otherwise, they’re constantly gathering intel on the movers and shakers in the world, stockpiling weapons for battle, or training new recruits.
Okay. That was a lot to take in. But now you’re caught up! So here we go:
800 years before the series, twenty kings formed an alliance in order to win the Great War — a conflict in which they overthrew the Great Kingdom to create a new world order: the WG (though this eventually includes the Warlords and Emperors). However, there is a hundred-year gap in the documented history of the world (from 900 to 800 years before the series). This period of time is known as the Void Century.
The WG are keen on maintaining the Void Century. For example, they sent Marines to destroy the archaeological island of Ohara, and branded eight-year-old Nico Robin — its sole survivor — a criminal with a bounty of 79 million. Why did they wipe Ohara off the map? Because its citizens were among the few who could read and decipher the “poneglyphs” — indestructible stone tablets spread throughout the world that document the Void Century and other historical facts.
The only known entities to have discovered the true history so far are the Roger Pirates — led by the late Gol D. Roger — the former “Pirate King”. Roger’s execution launched the current age of piracy in the series after he proclaimed he left his treasure in “one piece” on the island of Raftel.
To maintain order, the WG assign bounties, knowing that bounty hunters, concerned citizens, even other pirates, would be willing to capture or kill the targets to collect the money. While bounties are indeed placed on legitimate criminals, they’re also placed on non-government entities with knowledge of the Void Century, or knowledge that could allow them to learn it, like Robin and the exterminated Oharans; that knowledge is a threat to the world order.
Why are they so desperate? Well, the Void Century supposedly contains information on three Ancient Weapons — Pluton, Poseidon, and Uranus. The last thing they would want is for weapons of mass destruction to fall into “the wrong hands.” And so, they work to eliminate that possibility, like when they targeted Tom — and later, his apprentices Iceburg and Franky — of Water 7 to obtain the Pluton blueprints.
What’s interesting to me is how the WG’s use of the Warlords is reflective of our own history. In many ways, they operate like privateers since they are sanctioned by the government. Others also act like African warlords or mujahideen in the Middle East that were utilized during the Cold War.
Crocodile and Donquixote Doflamingo are two such examples. The former destabilized and took over the kingdom of Alabasta and ran a secret bounty hunter organization until he was defeated by the combined efforts of the Straw Hat pirates and Alabastan loyalists to the throne. Meanwhile, Doflamingo acted similarly in Dressrosa, though he quietly ousted the rightful ruler and used the kingdom as an organized crime ring to do business with Kaido, one of the Emperors.
The WG will use the Marines, their assassins, and other pirates in order to maintain their authority and the overall power balance. While they control the Warlords — and the Emperors are autonomous — the Revolutionary Army, rogue Supernovas, and anyone close to learning the true history are threats that must be dealt with in some way, shape, or form in order to maintain “absolute justice.”
After all: history and justice are determined by the winners.