Year Zero is an event used to reckon time within a particular continuity or universe, especially by fandom.
While seemingly as arbitrary as any hypothetical calendar is, it avoids being too specific while still setting a hard date on important things. This is useful if a writer wants to avoid accidentally invoking Period Piece baggage by using certain dates, but also an easy way to set events by the narrative rather than the implication that time is passing in a strictly consistent way. In some works Year Zero is generally the "hardest", and sometimes only, date relevant to actual characters. Most of the story takes place in the conveniently nebulous period after it. Because lying between two hard dates could be restrictive given enough time, events are reckoned as before or after Year Zero instead.
Occasionally writers slip and throw in an actual date, especially in early versions or installments of works before the writers became concerned with looking dated. Fans tend to jump on these while working out timelines.
For obvious reasons, Year Zero is often invoked for authors who use sliding timelines. For example, the formation of the Fantastic Four was occasionally used as the Year Zero of Marvel Comics continuity, with 'present-day' stories occurring about 10 years after this. This does not always work perfectly.
Compare Episode 0: The Beginning.
- Gundam has a different Year Zero for each of its Alternate Universes, though they were invented by the creators rather than the fans. Interestingly, each series takes place decades after its timeline's Year Zero, and only rarely is the Year Zero explicitly tied to a specific event.
- U.C. 0001, the first year in the original Mobile Suit Gundam's Universal Century, is the year in which migration to space begins, and as revealed in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (the first UC series to make reference to that year) is also tied to the actions of a young Syam Vist.
- In Gundam SEED, the Year Zero appears to be a Year 1: The Cosmic Era calendar is adopted in roughly 9 CE, and is retroactively dated to begin when nuclear weapons were used in Kashmir nearly a decade before. Three new superpowers and a number of new smaller powers also emerge from the radically changed national order. Following other Gundam timelines, the UN also announces a new Space Exploration and Colonization program. Much like other timelines, it's not mentioned when the exact date AD became CE, other than that it was sometime in the mid- or late-twenty first century.
- Fans tend to attempt to create the regular version of this with at least the Universal Century timeline, since there are a handful of specific dates given that are tied to a day of the week. This can be used to narrow down 2047 as the earliest possible year for the switch to the new calendar (2045 is the last AD date mentioned in any official timelines, but based on January 14th 0080 falling on a Monday and 0088 being a leap year the changeover couldn't have happened then, assuming they didn't skip any dates or change the way leap years are distributed when the calendar was overhauled. It's also worth noting that Word of God has since declared all the official timelines that mention the AD era non-canon).
- The After Colony calendar in Gundam Wing on the other hand, is implied begin from the launch of Skylab in the 1970s. Though it's never mentioned exactly when AC replaced AD.
- The novelization of the TV series drops two important bits of information in a single sentence: The circus where Trowa Barton hides out was founded in 1667 and has been around for almost 600 years. This puts AC 195 (the year the TV series takes place) in the neighborhood of 2260 AD, which would place Year Zero some time around the 2070s.
- Lyrical Nanoha measures time based on the new Mid-Childa calendar, which according to the Fate's As You Know talk in episode 14 of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, began during the period when physical-based weapons were banned and Magitek became the standard. This was the time when the TSAB had fully established themselves, building their main branch in Dimensional Space and their land-based HQ in Mid-Childa.
- When Kagome travels to the past in Inuyasha, she plops down into Japan's Sengoku Jidai, a century of continuous civil war and bloodshed. Because no exact dates are mentioned it would be anyone's guess as to what year it is when she goes back in time. The main clue the fandom has used to try to put a date to the era comes from one of the very first episodes, where a young samurai mentions Oda Nobunaga, but considers him to be unimportant and an idiotnote . Since there is a rather short window of time where Nobunaga was known, but not as a terrifying, ruthless, slaughter-happy badass, fandom uses this to get a rough idea of when the story is supposed to be taking place.
- The Year Zero event in One Piece is generally portrayed as the founding of the World Government, which occurred approximately 800 years ago. This event is the foundation of the One Piece world as it is now and the end of the Blank Century, a period which has very few surviving historical records and is illegal to study.
- Another Year Zero used unofficially in-story is the death of Gold Roger, twenty-four years prior, which started the "Great Pirate Era." Many characters refer to the "current era" and how it started with Roger's death. Some also remark that Whitebeard's death is yet another Year Zero, creating a new era.
- A more subtle example would be in the New Fishman saga. The oldest of the Fishman princes desires to return it all to 'zero.' This refers to wanting to undo and do away with the bigotry the fishman/merfolk have with humans and vice versa. It's achieved when Luffy stops Hody, saves the island and is given blood by Jimbei, symbolic as it was forbidden to give humans blood due to a past event involving Fisher Tiger. The prince notes to his deceased mother that they achieved, expressing the desire for a better future for the races,
- Curiously, the only year numbering actually seen in the series (Age of the Sea) matches none of these, beginning approximately 1500 years before the series. The event that it is based on is unknown.
- After the Crisis Crossover Zero Hour!, DC Comics put out a timeline showing where different events had happened in current continuity relative to "X years ago", thus sidestepping the question of Comic-Book Time.
- Fantastic Four is the starting point of Marvel's sliding timescale, which roughly work like this; the time in Marvel is always "now", and everything in continuity is supposed to have happened within around a 10 to 14-year timespan. It is called a sliding timescale because the fact that the end point is always the present drags older stories forward in time; this can pose problems for heroes with ties to a specific era. Sometimes details can change: Iron Man originally had his original story in the Vietnam War though this has now been changed to the Middle East (at least in his films), but characters tied to a specific era can be harmed. While they just need to lengthen the amount of time Captain America (a WW2 veteran) spends frozen, Magneto (a Holocaust survivor) is forced to be older and older.
- In the 2019 miniseries History Of The Marvel Universe this was (seemingly) settled once and for all by the insertion of an Asian conflict set in the fictional country of Siancong. Called a "decades-long war," it can slide along the timeline and provides an anchor for many characters whose history were previously rooted in real-world conflicts, including the Punisher (originally a Vietnam vet), the aforementioned Iron Man, and Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, who in 1961 were written as World War II vets, although this has rarely been mentioned in recent years.
- Time in Star Wars is generally measured in relationship to A New Hope. This was eventually given a nod with the introduction of an in-universe calendar established by the New Republic based on that same date, specifically, the Battle of Yavin.
- Ironically, many fans object to this Fandom Nod, considering the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi to be a more logical date to base an in-universe calendar around (since the events of ROTJ had far more in-universe significance).
- The Star Wars BBY/ABY (Before/After Battle of Yavin) calendar differs from most real-life examples in that the zero year is expressed as both 0 BBY and 0 ABY. The transition between BBY and ABY happens at the exact moment that the Death Star was destroyed.
- The use of the Battle of Yavin as a starting point for a calendar makes more sense if you remember the Opening Crawl for the first Star Wars film, which mentioned that just before the movie begins, the Rebels had won their first stand-up battle against the Empire. The scene where one Imperial officer is very nearly Board to Death for having a disturbing lack of faith has the Imperial officers discussing what to do about this recent development. So the Battle of Yavin presumably works because it was A) close to the beginning of the Rebellion proper, and B) a much more significant victory than whatever happened before the film started rolling.
- This victory is explored in Rebel Dawn and Dark Forces, two different interpretations of the mission to steal the Death Star plans but not much on said victory in the Star Wars Legends continuity. In the new continuity, it gets explored in Rogue One, where the victory is given alongside the explanation for how the plans were stolen; The Rebel Alliance was about to surrender, believing there was no chance of fighting against the Empire when they have a superweapon that could easily kill any of them at any given time, but a group of rebels, the Rogue One, defied orders to stay put and conducted a surprise attack while stealing the plans, leading to the Rebel Alliance sending in the rest of their fleet and actually winning by stomping both Imperial forces at Scarif but also getting the plans, due the Heroic Sacrifice of the Rogue One squad and numerous others.
- In 2012, after The End of the World as We Know It, the remains of mankind restart the calendar.
- Germania anno zero (English trans. Germany, Year Zero) was a 1948 Italian film set in post-WWII Berlin. Protagonist Edmund Kohler (age twelve) struggles to survive in a chaotic world: little rebuilding has been accomplished, food and necessary supplies are rationed & shortages are common. Edmund escapes the tense, claustrophobic apartment—in which he resides, along with remnants of five families—to the streets, hoping to scavenge useful items or information. Things get worse.
- A 12th century farmer's son named John is helping his father unload cabbages at the market, when suddenly he lets loose a fart so massive it causes heads to turn all the way down the end of the market. The boy drops his cabbage and runs until he's out of the market, then out of town, and keeps running. Years pass, during which he joins a mercenary band, gets kidnapped by pirates, gets shipwrecked, wins fights, makes fortunes, loses them, goes around the Mediterranean twice, until one day he realizes that his wanderings have brought him back to his hometown. As it's been decades since he last saw it, he goes in, and notices a magnificent cathedral. Seeing a small child nearby, he asks when it was built. The child answers:
It started three years, two months and twelve days, then finished twenty-three years, five months and three days after The Day John Farted.
- In the early days of Harry Potter, fans had to measure time from Harry's first year at Hogwarts. Thankfully for timeline-makers, Chamber of Secrets threw in a line (specifically, Nick's Deathday date) that placed the first book in the 1991-92 school year. Deathly Hallows established the same time frame through the dates on James and Lily Potter's graves. Despite several uses of post-1998 technology and London landmarks, the films (filmed from 2000-2010) also have gravestones dating the films' "present day" to this period.
- Though there were always some details here and there that showed in what year the Sherlock Holmes stories were set, there was always the question of how old Holmes was—whether he was in his 20s, 30s or 40s during A Study In Scarlet (his first appearance). It wasn't until His Last Bow (which was supposed to be the Grand Finale) that Conan Doyle decided to give Holmes an age of 60 during 1914, meaning that he was born in 1854 and was 27 years old during A Study in Scarlet (set in 1881).
- J.R.R. Tolkien's timeline in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was meticulously kept. Frequent dates were given on the in-universe calendar (in the case of The Lord of the Rings both in Shire Reckoning and the larger calendar of Middle-earth). Additionally, each culture kept time based on their own internal reckoning, with years based on significant events: The Hobbits followed Shire Reckoning, with Year Zero on the founding of the Shire, while Gondor and Rohan had their own calendars as well. Middle-earth on the whole broke timekeeping down into different Ages whose first year was decided by specific events. Tolkien paid so much attention to his calendar system that he even rewrote the entire chapter of Faramir and Frodo overlooking the waterfall at Henneth Annûn because he realized that the phases of the moon he used didn't match his previously established timeline!
- The timeline for the Silmarillion, however, is somewhat more confused and murky, possibly owing to his death before completing it. Exactly how the Valian Years, the Years of the Trees and the Years of the Sun in the First Age connect is left unclear.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Year Zero in the Seven Kingdoms is dated from the crowning of King Aegon I the Conqueror, founder of the Targaryen dynasty. The main series starts 298 years later.
- At the end of Anathem, the main character notes that the current day is "Day Zero, Year Zero". Given that their discovery of, and contact with, other universes has changed society a lot, this is to be expected.
- In the Honor Harrington universe as a whole, Year Zero is the Diaspora, when humanity left earth for the stars. All years are usually referred to as Standard Years Ante or Pre-Diaspora. Planets also have their own local calendars, using the initial landing of colonists as their respective Years Zero.
- Also from David Weber is Safehold. As far as Safeholdians know, Year Zero is the day of Creation itself. Though following the Archangel Shan-wei's rebellion, a new calendar was established using the end of that war as the Year Zero. This becomes a fairly significant plot point in the later books, since they learn from Paityr that the Archangels are prophesied to return after a thousand years. If that's a thousand years from Creation, the inner circle only has about twenty more years before their return, whereas if that's counting from Shan-Wei's murder they have close to a century.
- In Frank Herbert's Dune, the imperial calendar starts at the creation of the Spacing Guild, which holds a monopoly over interstellar transportation. The coronation of the first Corrino Emperor and discovery of the spice happened around the same time: the end of the Butlerian Jihad, the Great Revolt in which humanity destroyed the "Thinking Machines" that had enslaved most of them. The year at the beginning of the first novel is "10,191 AG". However, the Appendix also states that "one hundred and ten centuries" (11,000 years) passed between discovery of space travel (in the 20th century) and the Butlerian Jihad. Thus the actual setting of the first novel is roughly twenty thousand years in the future, double the ten thousand it appears at a casual glance.
- Among its many failures, the 1984 David Lynch movie adaptation just plain overlooked this, and started by stating that it is "the year 10,191 AD". This is all the more annoying, because the core text of the novel never gives the date, the only section using dates at all is the Appendix - the same section that explains they don't use the AD dating system! It's one short Appendix section and they still managed to get it wrong.
- In Robert Reid's Year Zero, citizens of the universe revere artistic endeavors, none more so than music. Turns out that humans make better music than any civilization in the history of the universe. The discovery of Earth's music (sans North Korea) was so monumental that they reset the universal calendar based on the date of discovery of the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter.
- In Alex Garland's The Beach, members of the beach community commemorate their Year Zero, the founding of the community, with the annual Tet Festival.
- In The Left Hand of Darkness, the Karhide calendar counts every year is Year One and other dates are counted forward or backward from it. Historical discussions usually refer to kings' regnal dates and other great events for consistency. An alternate calendar used by the Yomeshta religion date from their prophet's revelation.
- In Perry Rhodan the "Cosmic Hanse" cycle begins with Perry declaring a new calendar. Even his close friends are a bit shocked.
- Andromeda measures years in Commonwealth Years, which starts with the beginning of the Vedran Empire, making time in the series very non-specific. However, extended material gives the Commonwealth date for when Friedrich Nietzsche published Thus Spake Zarathustra, a definite date in our time system, so assuming they use the same years as we do (years based on the cycle of Tarn Vedra rather than Earth, though the difference can't be too much), it creates a good guess of the timeline of the series.
- The Battlestar Wiki Timeline measures time from the Cylon holocaust depicted in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. The in-universe calendar is only referred to once, in the season 3 episode "Hero", where readable text in a printed copy of Adama's dossier indicates that the 'present day' of that episode is the Colonial year 21356, somewhere around the year 148000 B.C.
- The current year is never mentioned in any season of 24, but the amount of time between days (16 months between Day 1 and 2, three years between Day 2 and 3, etc) is always established and can be used to determine how many years it has been since Day 1. In addition, fans have used various clues to formulate the following timeline:
- Day 1: Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004
- Day 2: A Saturday in September 2005
- Day 3: September 2008
- Day 4: March 2010
- Day 5: September 2011
- Day 6: May 2013
- Day 7: February 2017
- However the real world events that surround the first season would make this timeline slightly incorrect. The first season is meant to take place around one to two years after Jack's mission in Belgrade. The mission took place when Slobodan Milosevic was still in power which would place the mission in either 1999 or 2000.
- The season 2 finale of Lost established that Oceanic 815 crashed and started the whole thing on September 22, 2004, the same day that The Pilot, Part 1 episode was first aired and, you know, started the whole thing. Since then, fans were able to give all events of Seasons 1-4's present day an exact date based on the clues within the series. However, a Time Skip appeared in season 3 and events from flashforwards in that finale and season 4, and any of seasons 5-6 can only be put down to the year they happen in, with no precise dating except in relation to each other (with the exception of one season 4 flashforward, and time skips in season 5 that overlap with events from the early seasons).
- On ''Twin Peaks Agent Dale Cooper's first recorded message is dated 24 February, with the year established as 1989 by Ronette Pulaski's hospital chart. Word of God is that each episode represents one calendar day with the exception of an intertitle establishing a three-day time skip. This puts the events of the season 2 finale on 29 March.
- The album Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails is a Concept Album and associated ARG in which 2022 (15 years after the album's release) has been declared "Year Zero" by a corrupt, far-right U.S. government.
- Invoked by the Ghost song "Year Zero", which uses the term to reference the time of Satan's conquering of the world.
Hell Satan, archangelo
Hell Satan, welcome year zero
- Final Fantasy VII has the Shinra Company setting the year zero of its new era at the end of the Wutai War, six years before the start of the game. While not very important in the original game, games set in the prequel portion of the Compilation often make note of the date.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and it's sequel, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn did this a little differently. There is a year 0, but there are years before that are listed as negative. Year -155 is the earliest.
- The Elder Scrolls universe has several Year Zeros, at the beginning of every new 'Era'. It's common practice to put the Era before the year when announcing a date, for example "Third Era, Year 433", which is typically written as "3E 433". The first four games take place in the 5th century of the 3rd Era (roughly - Arena covers the last year of the 4th century), and Skyrim takes place in the third century of the 4th Era.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 dates things from the fall of Cocoon at the end of Final Fantasy XIII.
- Invoked, but not used, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. After grabbing the Green Goo from an armored train for The Truth, he claims "they will call this Year Zero". Sadly, nothing comes of it.
- An extremely common Fanon for Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Symphonia is that Symphonia's ending is Year Zero for the calendar used in Phantasia.
- The Ace Attorney series frequently uses months and days for dates, but it usually refers to years only by reference (two years after a case, 5 years earlier, etc). However, a year is given for one particular event: the DL-6 incident happened in 2001 (December 28, to be exact). From this one fixed point, one can deduce the exact date of pretty much every case and event in the entire franchise.
- The calendar in the Spanish webcomic 5 Elementos is based on a date called "Day Zero", when there was an all-out war that made the whole country collapse (curiously referred to by no other name than the "Day Zero war"). However, no date has been given so far in the comic, we only know the base of the calendar. (In fact, the author played with this in a chapter, trying to get fans off track in the timeline before revealing that Rubéola wasn't Matarratas's real sister, when Matarratas's father had been stated to be 3 in the Day Zero.) Current fan speculation has the first chapter at the year 32.
- Every so often, this happens with revolutionary governments who want to stress a complete break with The Way Things Have Been Done Heretofore. The Ur-Example of this may be from the French Revolution, particularly after the ascendancy of the Jacobins, when a new — Metric — calendar was introduced, restarting the year numbering at Year 1. Similarly, the "Juche" calendar of North Korea has been recalibrated from Kim Il-Sung's birth year.
- A literal example of this trope comes from Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot declared 1975, the year that that Khmer Rouge insurgents were able to seize control of the country, to be Year Zero (the regime only lasted until "Year Four").
- This was averted by the Gregorian calendar system used throughout the world. There is no year zero, and it is one of the calendar's base assumptions. Things that happened before the birth of Christ (the starting point of the calendar) are calculated in negative years Before Christ, counting down not to Year Zero, but Anno Domini 1: that is, there is a direct skip from 1 BC straight to AD 1! (Due to errors in calculations, the actual birth of Christ may lie anywhere from 6 BC to AD 6.)note The lack of a year zero on the Gregorian dating system has led to many placing the start and end points of each century wrong, particularly in recent decades. For instance, when supercentenarian Emma Martina Luigia Morano died in 2017, it was common to hear sources misreport her as having been the final living person born in the 19th century, when in reality, she was just the last person born in the 1800s. The actual last living child of the 19th century was Nabi Tajima, born in August of 1900. One notable gag on Seinfeld makes light of this common mix-up, in which Newman accidentally books his New Year's Eve party a year later than intended thanks to him asking to reserve it for the New Millennium.
- Played straight on both the astronomical calendar and the ISO 8601 specification. Both include a year zero, as the lack of this screws up the math on BC years. Thus, 1 BC is 0, 2 BC is -1 and so on.
- The time when Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies and reconstruction efforts began was known as "Die Stunde Null" or "Das Jahr Null" (Zero Hour / Year Zero) to German citizens. It combined a feeling of defeatism, utter shock, delusion, and hope for the future.