One Piece: Impel Down, The Maximum Security Prison of the One Piece World
In any story worldbuilding helps to flesh out the setting that acts as a backdrop for the the main story.
It builds the geographies, history and locales that provide depth to the world that a story inhabits, and few manga does this as well as One Piece.
Unlike most people, I didn’t start reading One Piece from any of the more famous, earlier arcs such as Arlong park arc or Choppers arc. What first got me into one piece was when luffy was planning on breaking into Impel Down and we were given an explanation on what Impel Down was.
I found the prison to be very interesting as the structure and levels all had their own theme with guards specific for each level. This is how I started getting really into one piece and in this article I wanted to just talk about the greatest prison in the one piece world, the great underwater prison, Impel Down.
This article however is just a brief overview of the structure of the great prison and we will go into detail on other aspects such as who runs the prison and what equipment they use in another article, so lets get into it.
Impel Down Location & Layout
Impel Down is a maximum security prison run by the world government to hold the most dangerous criminals in the world and has the reputation of being impenetrable and escape proof (more on that later) and is built to be a literal fortress. The prison is located in the middle of the calm belt and is connected to the marine headquarters and enies lobby via the gates of justice. This location is nearly inaccessible to most as the calm belt is infested with sea kings and trying to gain access to it via any routes other than the gates of justice is likened to suicide.
The structure is built above the sea and extends all the way down to the seabed like a massive submerged tower. This design was to discourage any forms of escape or rescue as if one was to attempt an escape via the sea they would have to contend with sea kings and escaping via the surface would have to deal with the fortress and multiple battleships. This tower-like structure officially houses 5 levels each with their own theme and each level moving downwards the danger level and bounty of the criminal increases with a 6th secret level only known to high ranking officials within the world government.
Each of these levels have jail cells to hold the prisoners and also unique tortures that correspond to the theme of that particular floor. The first floor is called the crimson hell and is named due to a forest of red trees that are located here. This forest comprises trees that have leaves that are as sharp as blades and grass which are like needles. The prisoners are chased through this forest by guards and poisonous spiders all while being cut from every direction and so the entire forest is stained crimson by the blood of hundreds of prisoners forced to do this. Somewhere within this forest of torture is a hole that leads to the next level and prisoners who wish to end their suffering are free to jump down and face the next nightmarish torture, the wild beast hell.
Frankly speaking, the first floor itself already sounds terrible. The idea of running around stepping on essentially sharp grass makes me wince just thinking about it. The other floors each have their own tortures but this personally seems pretty bad.
Impel Down Level 2 & 3 – The wild beast & starvation hell
Level 2 is called the wild beast hell as it is home to dangerous beasts that hunt and devour the prisoners if they are given the chance. The whole concept for this level is that prisoners are just left to their own devices but are caged in and have to survive alongside these dangerous beasts. There are 2 beasts that are commonly seen at this level which are the puzzle scorpions and the manticores. Puzzle scorpions are scorpions with segmented bodies that can join together to form a giant centipede while manticores are lions with human faces that can parrot the words of other humans to lure them into a trap.
Alongside these 2 beasts there are two more dangerous ones which are the basilisk and the sphinx. The Basilisk is a giant beast that has traits of both a snake and a chicken and largely outsizes the manticores and puzzle scorpions. Similar to the first floor, the 2nd floor also has an access downwards to the third floor however this entrance is guarded by the most dangerous beast here which is the sphinx. The sphinx resembles a more gigantic version of the manticore and is much more dangerous with it dwarfing even the basilisk and is so fearsome that other beasts even actively hide from it. The sphinx is also tremendously strong and is able to break the floor to level three after hitting it several times.
The third floor of the prison is called the starvation hell and is typically where criminals with bounties of above 50 million are sent. On this floor the temperature is hot enough that an arid landscape is developed and looks pretty much like a desert with sand everywhere. This temperature is due to the heat that rises from the 4th floor and most kept here are simply left to their own devices and given very little food and water to essentially leave them in a state of perpetual starvation and dehydration.
In the centre of this level is the opening leading to level 4 but this time the opening leads directly to a vat of boiling blood and above the whole is a giant fan which acts as ventilation. Any prisoner looking to move to the 4th floor would need to take this plunge and pray they don’t end up in the scalding vat of boiling blood.
Impel Down Level 4 & 5
Level 4 is known as the blazing hell and is rather unique in that there are no minimum requirements in terms of notoriety or bounty for one to be tortured here and it is common practice for prisoners of other levels to be brought here. Some of the tortures include being hung over raging flames and being put on back breaking manual labour in an environment where the heat was hot enough to scald flesh. One of the most famous tortures that has become a right of passage among prisoners is being dunked into the vat of boiling blood and seeing if the person flinches or not with more stronger prisoners barely taking notice. Another interesting point is that the warden of the prison, Magellan also has his offices on this floor.
The 5th level is the polar opposite of the fourth floor and is known as the freezing hell where those with bounties above 100 million are kept. This floor is essentially a giant freezer and is so cold that exposed flesh immediately becomes frostbitten and can chip or break off. The scariest thing however isnt the cold but rather the animals that call this place their home, the frost wolves. The wolves were so incredibly brutal and dangerous that when originally kept on level 2 they began hunting everything, even the sphinx and basilisk and had to be separated. Those on this level have to constantly run from these beasts while attempting to endure the cold region.
The Secret Floors Beyond Level 5
Now officially, that’s where the prison ends, however there are still the 2 unofficial levels which are level 6 and level 5.5. First let’s talk about level 6 as that is more related to the functioning of the prison only kept secret from others. Level 6 is another prison level meant to keep those of the highest levels of danger. This level functions to essentially wipe the people who are kept here from existence as they are deemed too dangerous to even be kept with other prisoners.
People who are nation level threats and former shichibukai are some of the big names that call this place home and it’s said by the fleet admiral himself that if even 1 of them got out the level of catastrophe would be unprecedented. This was where Portgas D. Ace the Mera-Mera no Mi user and 3rd squad captain of the whitebeard pirates was kept before his execution in the same cell with the shicibukai Jinbei
Not many even know this level exists as Boa Hancock, a shichibukai, was completely oblivious to its existence. There are seemingly no tortures conducted on this level and convicts are just caged and left to be forgotten. Level 5.5 is a bit misleading in that it’s not officially a level created by the world government but instead a level created between 5 & 6 where the fugitive Emporio Ivankov and others were hiding. The room has some amenities such as food storage, a club and a surveillance room. After the newkama and Ivankov broke out of impel down its unknown if this area is still functioning
Escape Attempts & Closing Thoughts
As complex as this prison is the way it has been designed has afforded it the reputation of being nigh impenetrable and escape proof and in its long service history has only seen 1 successful escape and 1 successful break in rescue mission. The first escape was carried out 20 years before the current storyline by shiki the golden lion who had to cut off his own feet to facilitate this escape and the break in was orchestrated by Monkey D. Luffy who not only successfully broke into impel down but “masterminded” the escape of a dozens of criminals along with 2 shichibukai. This could only have happened due to the help Luffy got from Boa hancock & Ivankov as well as the chaos caused by Blackbeard and his team essentially splitting the defenses of impel down to 2 to deal with both threats simultaneously.
The way impel down was structured and the entire story of how luffy broke in and masterminded an entire escape plot forever tarnishing the name of impel down will always be one of my favourite moments in one piece as i always remember it as my first entry into One Piece. The worldbuilding done in One Piece really helps to flesh out the story as we see many previously captured pirates end up here during Luffy’s breakout attempt.
Its exciting to see what other locales and areas we would get to visit in the future and I am especially looking forward to exploring mariejois after the secret vaults were revealed.