His name is given as Hajime Saitō in Western-order, which is the chosen order used in the English anime.
Creation and conception Edit
When creating the character Watsuki used the concept of "anti-hero", much like The Punisher, Frank Castle, of Marvel Comics fame, from whom he drew inspiration.Watsuki considers Saitō as the "curse" of the villains in the series as he always ends defeating the enemies who believe they are the strongest. The Gatotsu sword technique that Saitō uses in the series is similar to the description of his original sword technique, but is purely fictional, and not entirely accurate to real sword fighting.
A former captain in the loyalist Shinsengumi, Saitō has had a long time rivalry with Himura Kenshin, a former manslayer of the Imperialist cause. As a result of his involvement in the Ikedaya Affair, he and his Shinsengumi comrades successfully prevented the burning of Kyoto by an extremist faction of the Ishin Shishi. Nevertheless, the pro-shogunate forces were ultimately defeated and he was forced to go into hiding.
Saitō has no compassion or mercy for his enemies. He lives by the Shinsengumi code "Aku Soku Zan" (悪即斬 -literally "Slay Evil Immediately", but more poetically rendered as "Swift Death To Evil"), though he never shows much regard for human life, at some points even letting on that he likes to kill. He is rather morbid and arrogant. Nevertheless, none of these character flaws prevent him from being a superb investigator and fighter. He believes in peace and order, even in the society created by his former enemies. Anyone he considers to be corrupt or despotic, he targets for elimination.
During the Kyoto Arc, Saitō joins forces with Kenshin to fight against Shishio Makoto. However, he considers Kenshin to be more of an adversary rather than an ally. After acknowledging Kenshin's vow to never kill again, Saitō decides to put an end to their rivalry.
Saitō is an able observer and a quick analyst (working as a spy for the Meiji government). In addition to being a skilled swordsman, he is revealed to possess immense physical strength when he pummels the Herculean Sagara Sanosuke in a hand-to-hand fistfight. He considers Sanosuke to be a dimwitted amateur with mild potential, due mostly to Sano's lack of insight.
He is also revealed to be married to a woman named Tokio (who has never been seen). He remarks at one point early on that he has a fondness for soba, a simple noodle dish.
Saitō is highly recognizable by his narrow eyes, "spider-like" strands of hair in front of his forehead (he is also often said to resemble a wolf), his propensity for smoking and the katana (Japanese sword) which hangs from his left side.
Saitō mastered several techniques of the "Shinsengumi-Kenjutsu." The "Hirazuki" (left-handed stab) technique that Saitō's Gatotsu resembles is based on the real fighting style of the Shinsengumi. Although the Gatotsu is the only technique that Saitō performs, he has been able to perform the same technique in different stances.
The First Stance (Ishiki) is the standard, shoulder-level ground attack. He prepares by dropping into a partial crouch, both knees bent, left arm drawn back and right extended forward; he grasps the kashira (endcap of the tsuka, or hilt) of his sword with his left hand and rests the tips of the fingers of his right hand (usually the thumb) on the blade near its tip. The Second Stance (Nishiki) is a downward-striking attack. The direction of the Nishiki thrust is narrower, as well. The Third Stance (Sanshiki) is an upward-striking attack. Prepared identically to the Ishiki, he uses it to intercept an opponent assaulting him from above, directing his blade into the air instead of immediately forward.
However, Saitō also possesses another stance: Gatotsu Zero Stance (Zeroshiki). Zeroshiki is an attack performed at point-blank range using all his upper body strength. This stance, unlike the first three, requires no prior preparation or footwork. Saitō's sword techniques are considered quite deadly, as the Gatotsu has only a precious few blind spots to be exploited. Despite the apparent inflexibility of using one attack repeatedly, it has many useful applications. The motion of the Gatotsu can also be used even with his bare hands.
Besides his overwhelming ability with a sword, Saitō is extremely well-versed in hand-to-hand combat. His fighting style most resembles Boxing as he possesses amazing footwork, defense, and tremendous speed and power. This is evident when he decided to have a fist-fight with Sanosuke and beat him almost effortlessly whilst receiving no damage whatsoever from his attacks. It's then pointed out that he purposely dodged Sanosuke's bad shoulder in order to keep the fight fair. Besides his superior in-fighting skills, Saitō is also extremely analytical in battle, much like Hiko Seijuro, and can exploit his opponent's weaknesses quite easily, such as Kenshin's reliance on his quick judgment, to which he replies by kicking him to the back rather than with the sword despite having taken his sword up.
Plot overview Edit
Saitō first appears masquerading as a medical herb seller outside the Kamiya dojo. After injuring Sagara Sanosuke (who saw through his trick), he flees, but leaves clues to alert Himura Kenshin of his presence. When Kenshin departs for a duel with Saitō's underling, Saitō himself appears at the Kamiya dojo, posing as a police officer who urgently needs to speak with Kenshin.
When Kenshin arrives at the dojo, he notices Saitō and becomes angry, revealing Saitō's true identity as the former 3rd Captain of the Shinsengumi. They duel, and as Saitō gains the upper hand, Kenshin reverts back to Battosai the manslayer and breaks his sword, and intercepts Saito's attempt at breaking his neck with his police uniform jacket by striking him with his scabbard. Okubo appears just as they were about to finish, and stops the duel, apologizing for testing Kenshin to see if he was still a skilled enough swordsman to face Shishio.
Saitō appears again during the Kyoto Arc to fight against Shishio Makoto. During this arc, Saitō fights and has his men kill many of his soldiers, including the second most powerful opponent in the Juppongatana, Usui, becoming wounded in the legs in the process. However, he is defeated by Shishio as his ambush on him failed. Shishio had a hachigane (forehead guard), saving him from being ripped apart from a Gatotsu when Saito struck him to the head. Shishio revealed that because it was from being attacked to the head earlier and burned, he protected his forehead to avoid repeating the same mistake. Afterwards, Shishio easily deflected every attack Saitō threw at him. At the end, he is thought to be dead during after the explosion of the battlefield. In the Jinchu Arc, Saitō is sent to arrest Yukishiro Enishi and he ends helping Kenshin to fight against the partners of Enishi, defeating Mumyoi and breaking his arm and teeth. He also fights against the first of the four Sushin guards of Enishi's second-in-command and defeats him even after he exploits Gatotsu's weak spot as Aoshi, Sanosuke, and Yahiko take care of the rest. In the end of the series, Saitō is transferred to another city to work after rejecting the challenge of Himura Kenshin, claiming that he won't enjoy settling the score with an assassin that doesn't kill. He is very briefly shown in the colored special Haru ni Sakura, where an older Kenshin asks Aoshi to tell him of his whereabouts and state of health as he learns that Sanosuke has traveled to Mongolia. This sidestory was collected into a few Kenshin-related books, and in the Kanzenban with Yahiko no Sakabato.
In Japan, many fans of the Shinsengumi complained to Watsuki about the personality of Saitō Hajime. However, as the series continued Saitō became one of the most popular character of the series as he ranked 3rd in the two last Shonen Jump popularity polls and 2nd in the "Who is the best enemy of Kenshin?" polls.
Some concepts of the Rurouni Kenshin version of Saitō Hajime were used in is the fighting game series The Last Blade in the character of Keiichiro Washizuka, a unit leader of the Shinsengumi, a police-like group during the Bakumatsu era. The character also had a similar sliding thrust technique to the Gatotsu.
Several publications for manga, anime, video games, and other media have provided praise and criticism on the character. Anime News Network praises the character it is made for perfectly. They celebrate his introduction, past and fight scenes, and Japanese voice actor as one of the best moments of the series. They also state that although he appears for a few seconds in Samurai X: Reflection is truly menacing, alos noting his new design.
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