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Doesn't matter if you kill him now, either way, this guy's going to end up on the execution stand with the added bonus of torture. You'll prefer it over delivering the final blow to an unconcious man. It's a much more painful way to go.
~ Saitō Hajime

Hajime Saitō is a supporting character from the Rurouni Kenshin manga and anime series created by Nobuhiro Watsuki. He is the former captain of the third unit of the special police force known as the Shinsengumi, a hitokiri, and a current special agent who works for the Department of Internal Affairs, owned by the Meiji Government.

After a long-standing rivalry with Himura Kenshin since their days of the final era of Edo known as Bakumatsu, Saitō holds a begrudging respect for the rurouni and has come to his help on assignment more than only once, ruthlessly serving as an ally and the voice of reason in several major battles of Kenshin-gumi.

Appearance

Saitō is depicted as a tall and lean man and has long limbs and a long face. His eyes are piercing and narrow and his short black hair is neatly slicked back with the exception of four forelock bangs which others have compared to cockroach antennae. During the bloody revolution he wore a samurai style ponytail, but cut it off after he became an agent of the police.

Though he frequently wore the traditional Shinsengumi uniform during the Bakumatsu, Saitō is almost always seen in his blue policeman's uniform during the Meiji era. In the anime, Shishio Makoto described him as "a man who looks like a wolf." This could be due to his gatotsu sword form, his overall lean appearance and angled golden eyes.

As was the same with the real-life Saito, this fictional incarnation of him is known for his unusual height for a Japanese man of his era, being just about 5 feet eleven inches tall. The real life Saito was known to stand out in a crowd due to his tall stature.

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Saitō as he appeared during the Bakumatsu

Saitō is a rather tall man with a lean but fit frame. He has a long face with pronounced cheekbones and tear-troughs. His eyes are piercing and narrow while yellow in color and his short black hair is neatly slicked back with the exception of four bangs over his forehead. In the anime, Shishio Makoto described him as "a man who looks like a wolf." During the Bakumatsu he had a long sweeping ponytail reaching his mid back, but cut it off after he became an agent of the police.

Though he frequently wore the traditional Shinsengumi uniform during the revolution, Saitō is almost always seen in his blue policeman's uniform during the Meiji era.

Personality

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.

He adherently lives by the Shinsengumi code "Aku Soku Zan", (literally meaning 'slash evils instantly'), 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 expects those involved in the military, whether Shinsengumi swordsmen or Meiji era policemen, to carry out their duties without letting their personal feelings interfere.

He believes in peace and order, even in the society created by his former enemies. Throughout the series, to uphold this new peace, Saitō has often been shown as the foil of Kenshin who walks and carries out his duties in the shadows of society in his own way; following his lifelong code of purpose with devotion, Saitō is the man who does the necessary dirty work, killing off the despicable and those beyond saving. Anyone he considers to be corrupt or despotic, he targets for elimination, in the honor of his country and his fallen men.

Though he is normally serious, Saitō has a slight sense of humor that is is morbid and slightly sadistic, shown as he uses his sword to casually attempt to stab Sano in the butt through the roof of the horse carriage the two of them and Kenshin were riding on.

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Saitō, Kenshin and Sano join forces in the battle against Shishio.

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. Later, 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). Saitō has been shown to be somewhat annoyed when forced to admit to being a married man, as the idea of domestic life conflicts with his cold and terrifying image and almost demonic affect. 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.

Relationships

Himura Kenshin - His rival for numerous years. Even years after the war ended, he showed to still have noticeable animosity towards Kenshin. While originally assigned to test Kenshin's skill to face Shishio, once Kenshin's Battōsai-side emerged and began pressuring him, Saitō lost sight of his mission, letting his rivalry resume with the full intent of killing Kenshin. Later after this incident, as the two warriors continued to fight together against noteworthy foes, Saitō gradually came to respect Kenshin for more than just his skills, seeing him as a valued ally. Ultimately, once realizing and acknowledging that his once bitter enemy is no longer Hitokiri Battōsai, but just Himura Kenshin, he refuses an offer from Kenshin to settle their disputes once and for all and, in doing so, puts an end to the age-long rivalry.

Shinsengumi - Bakumatsu faction. Served as the captain of the third squad. He was among the best swordsmen of the group with Okita Souji.

Saitō Tokio|Tokio - His wife who made his favourite food.

Mishima Eiji - His adopted son whom he and his wife raised after the death of his family.

Sagara Sanosuke - Saitō and Sanosuke have a mutual resentment toward each other, but they also show deep, albeit silent and begrudging, respect for the other's abilities. It could be first seen when Sanosuke spoiled Shishio's plans by destroying the Rengoku, thus thwarting his plans to fire bomb Tokyo.

Abilities

Ishiki

Saitō in the "Isshiki" stance for Gatotsu

As a high-ranking police officer/special agent of the goverment and a former unit commander to the Shinsengumi, Saitō is an extremely powerful combatant. His skills rank among the strongest in the series as shown from his long-standing rivalry and constant fighting on par with Himura Kenshin, leading to all their fights ending inconclusively. A master swordsman, he is well-versed all the various techniques of the "Shinsengumi-Kenjutsu". At the same time, his personal style of combat follows a more simplistic and straightforward nature. He relies more heavily on basic attacks while overall adapting to the free-form nature of death battles. As noted by Kenshin, defeating Saitō is an extremely difficult feat that cannot be accomplished merely by defeating his signature techniques. While his signature stance is left-handed, he is in fact an ambidextrous fighter, able to skillfully switch his stance and dominant hand at any time and likewise battle just as efficiently with either side. The seamless nature of this is able to confuse even the most intuitive and analytical of foes, letting him more effectively find an opening to strike able to seamlessly switch between them to confuse his opponent.

Hajime Saito uppercut

Saitō knocking Sanosuke into the air with an uppercut

Besides his undeniably overwhelming swordsmanship, Saitō is extremely well-versed in hand-to-hand combat and martial arts. His fighting style is more commonly defensive, seeing through his opponent's attacks and blocking, to which he has a very solid guard, or evading before countering with jujutsu, judo and aikidō maneuvers, performing quick strikes to key weak points followed by body-locks and throws. When fighting offensively, his styles resembles boxing as he possesses amazing footwork and quick relentless jabs. His prowess was made evident when he decided to have a fist fight against Sanosuke and still beat him almost effortlessly. Saitō also tends to integrate hand-to-hand combat techniques into his swordplay, using them to cover blind spots in his sword technique and to give himself additional offensive and defensive coverage. Some of his signature techniques can also be used as effectively with or without a sword. His physical might is deceptively great, as he took a direct and serious blow in the face from Sanosuke unfazed and likewise struck back with even stronger blows. He is also remarkably fast, able to catch Shishio off-guard and successfully strike him before he could react, his attack only failing to kill Shishio because the latter's head was protected by a metal headband.

Saitō is also an extremely perceptive and analytical man, much like Hiko Seijūrō. He can easily see through his opponent's battle tactics and mindset, thereby enabling him to exploit his opponent's physical weaknesses. This lets him either easily counter his opponent's attacks or through them off their game by exploiting the foe's personal anguishes, tricking them into a angry frenzy to easily take them down. He is also a very shrewd tactician. When faced against a foe that has the advantage against his normal battle methods, he can quickly devise more abstract means to fight. Even when void of his sword, he is shown using the very clothing on his being such as his belt as an effective battle tool.

Saitō's signature move is a refined Hirazuki technique known as the Gatotsu based on the real fighting style of the Shinsengumi. It is stated by Sanosuke that the Gatotsu has stabbing power that rivals Kenshin's Kuzuryūsen. Furthermore, the sheer force behind the Gatotsu is such that, even after being gravely wounded by both Usui and Shishio, Saitō was able to blast apart a steel door that Sanosuke admitted was too thick to be destroyed by a Futae no Kiwami. Although the Gatotsu is the only named technique that Saitō uses, he has been able to perform the same technique in different stances.


In Live-action film

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The Gatotsu stance.

He is played by Yusuke Eguchi and can very well be looked upon as the most powerful character in the film. The film begins when Saitō led his group fighting in the war before Kenshin vanished shortly after their defeat at Toba-Fushimi. Ten years later, as a high ranking member of the police department, he meets Kenshin again and the two end up dueling in the presense of Yamagata Aritomo, with Saitō handling the fight surprisingly easily, due to Kenshin's refusal to become Hitokiri Battosai. In addition, he is in pursuit of Takeda Kanryū, a very successful businessman, suspected of smuggling opium. Under the laws of the Meiji Era, however, Saitō is unable to search Kanryū without a warrant. Eventually, however, after Kenshin and Sanosuke fight their way through Kanryū's soldiers and find themselves facing Kanryū who is in possession of a gatling gun, Saitō attacks Kanryū head on and ends up arresting him, despite the constant barrage of gunfire directed towards him. However Saitō didn't hold the end of the handle of his sword during the time he did Gatotsu. The real Gatotsu works when the user holds the end of the handle of the sword.

Eguchi reprise his role in sequels to film: The Great Kyoto Fire and The End of a Legend.

In the beginning of second film when Saitō and his colleagues raided to find crimnal's whereabouts when two of colleagues didn't come out so Saitō led his men to track down

Saitō discovered that the bandaged man was Shisho Matoko whom he thought was dead in the war. Before Shishio fled, he order his men to drop the captured cops which had been hung up, causing them to fall into the fire below. With the compound disintegrating and fire burning, Saitō could neither pursue Shishio nor save his men.

Later, while meeting Kenshin, Saitō showed him the corpses of the cops that Shishio sent back to them, making it clear how serious a threat Shishio was. He said to Kenshin that he expected to see the latter in Kyoto, where the next step of Shishio's plans was most likely to take place.

After Kenshin defeated Sawagejō Chō, Saitō learned from this Katana loving, hired assassin that Shishio's plan was to attack Kyoto and burn the city. Saitō and Kenshin agreed they should confront Shishio's men at Kyoto to prevent the destruction of the city. However, they didn't exactly work together, but somehow fought with the attackers in their own ways. Having dispatched the attackers, Saitō and Kenshin both realized burning Kyoto was merely a distraction, while the main event will take place in Tokyo.

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