Yeah, yeah, I know most of you believe Saitou is evil, and I know that this page is on the Evil Webring and all that, but I've been discussing Saitou's evil nature with a fan over e-mail the last couple of days, and it got me thinking. The question before us basically is: is Saitou really evil? I don't really think so, so I'm writing a little essay here to explain why, since this is a Saitou shrine and all.
I must first start with my definition of 'evil'. I can only hope that you will accept my definition, because without one I cannot hope to develop my argument, let alone convince you. Many people have differing opinions on what constitutes an 'evil' person, but I think that this one is fairly simple, and will strike most people as being valid. To be evil, one must act selfishly in one's own interests, without consideration for anyone's life, feelings, possessions, etc. You may claim to have a moral code, or even abide by a particular pattern of behaviour that may be considered to be a 'code', but that code does not take others into consideration. Furthermore, one must be without compassion or caring feeling for one's fellow creatures, and only care for oneself. Note that I consider this second clause to follow from the first.
To complete my definition, I must illustrate an exception. Often 'evil' characters do 'care for' or 'love' someone. An example of this is Shishio's love for Yumi. I do not doubt that they felt genuine love for each other, but Shishio's love for Yumi did not extend to any caring feeling about anyone else. He didn't love Seta Soujiro, who was practically a son; he used him and simply shrugged when Soujiro left him. He used everyone, and didn't care whether they got hurt or died, so long as his lust for power and revenge was satisfied. I think that he still falls within the limits of my definition, because Yumi is an exception in his otherwise uncaring façade. He has extended his love of himself to one other person, but no further, so I must still conclude that he is evil.
Now that I have established my definition, I must discuss why Saitou does not actually fit that definition, though at first glance one might think that he does. The first thing I talked about was a moral code. Saitou does have a moral code, a code of behaviour that, at times, seems not to take others into account. He willingly lies and kills, in accordance with this code. However, his code is a code of honour, and he is honourable by most standards. His code forces him to work with Kenshin, a man he hates and wishes dead, yet Saitou does not betray him in any way, and even allows the Kenshin Gumi to think him dead so that he will not have to fight Kenshin again. (I admit that his reasons for doing this are not stated explicitly in the anime, but even if this is not the reason, it had that effect, and can you think of another reason?). Saitou's code is not simply a code of his own creation either, it is the code of the Shinsen Gumi, who were a group for whom honour was paramount. Remember that the Shinsen Gumi were *not* evil, only on the losing side. History, and the Rurouni Kenshin OVA, may remember them as villains, but had they won, it would have been the revolutionary Ishin Shishi that were the villains. He followed that code into the Meiji Era, despite the likelihood that it would kill him someday, which is not the act of a selfish person, out only for his own gain.
"However," one might say, "just look at him! He attacked Sanosuke viciously, which was going totally overboard. He threatened the lives of Kaoru and Yahiko when Kenshin returned from his fight. Furthermore, he's really scary-looking, and seems to delight in being so."
My response to this is that all of this stuff is basically a front. Don't mistake me: I don't think he's sweetness and light inside, I just think he's exaggerating. This front of his keeps him safe, because someone with a reputation for being totally ruthless and murderous just won't get attacked as often as someone like Kenshin, who can't seem to bring himself to kill those who attack him. Remember, to the Ishin government, he was very recently the enemy, and imagine what they would do if he seemed weaker and less ruthless than they remembered him being during the Bakumatsu. They'd try to walk all over him. They might try to imprison him; to make him "pay for his crimes", when all he really wants to do is help support *their* government. Because of this, his name: "Mibu's Wolf" is valuable to him, and it is in his best interests that he maintain the image that he is worthy of that name. The Ishin government expects him to be a monster, so why not give them what they want? Especially if it means that he gets to be involved in all kinds of important happenings and given lots of latitude about how to do his job. All this is a carefully calculated effort to allow himself to keep on being the Shinsen Gumi Third Division Captain, despite the Ishin's ideas about how things should be done. Besides, I think he enjoys making people squirm.
The final thing I talked about in my definition is that, mostly as a result of being a selfish bastard, the evil character is without compassion for other people. I have two words in response to anyone who says that Saitou fits this definition: Tokio and Sanosuke. Tokio, obviously, is his wife. Now, I grant two things: first, I personally haven't seen any interaction between Saitou and Tokio, so I don't know for sure how he treats her, and secondly, that people often have different reasons for getting married than that they love the person. I just don't think that Saitou has married for anything but love. My reasons for thinking so are drawn from his comments to Kenshin about how he is incapable of protecting his loved ones, and how they are weaknesses to him and he should distance himself. Saitou only let anyone know that he was married because of a slip, and no one knows where she is. Saitou is obviously careful not to let *his* loved ones be weaknesses for him, and the fact that he hides Tokio so effectively gives weight to the idea that he loves her.
Secondly, Sanosuke. Saitou took an inexperienced boy with great potential under his wing for absolutely no visible reason at all. In fact, he took great pains to hide the fact that he was doing so. Certainly Sanosuke seemed to miss it completely for a long time. However, after all of the insults, Saitou still kept urging Sanosuke to pull out of the fight with Anji. Watch that scene closely; do you really think that Saitou would have been that insistent if he didn't give a wit if Sanosuke died? After all of his statements to the effect that Sanosuke was a useless fighter and an idiot besides, why should Saitou care if Anji killed him? Furthermore, why should Saitou try, again and again, to teach Sanosuke, and to convince him that training was required? To Saitou, Sanosuke was nothing but an irritant, or perhaps even an obstacle to his efforts to get Kenshin to Kyoto; so why give Sanosuke anything but a death sentence? The reason for this is that Saitou came to care about Sanosuke. An evil man, even one who loved one woman, would not simply take an obstacle to his plans like Sanosuke under his wing and care about him.
There is a possible counter-argument to all of this that I would like to address before wrapping this up: Saitou's statements that he enjoys killing could be taken as a sign of psychopathology, which might mean that he is evil. My answer to this is that Saitou is aware of this enjoyment of his, but he channels that energy into good things, rather than allowing it free reign, as an evil man would do. Saitou, at least as much as we have seen of him, only kills to support his beliefs. Even when he kills in a brutal or frightening manner, he is always doing it to good ends. I'm not saying that the ends always justify the means, but in every instance, Saitou's killing is swift, not torturous. It is like a way of releasing the pent-up urge to kill, without compromising his honour. He states early in the Kyoto arc that he avoids alcohol to prevent the lowered inhibitions caused by the drug. Though he doesn't state it that way, it seems clear that he is concerned that imbibing alcohol may cause him to indulge in killing, with unfortunate results. The fact that he refrains from drinking shows that, while he might like to kill, he is aware of and concerned with, the morality or consequences of doing so, and so he refrains. An evil man wouldn't care about such things, and wouldn't limit himself to killing in accordance with some honourable code.
To sum up, Saitou may seem quite evil at first glance, and he is definitely a villain, but he does not actually fit the criteria for an evil man. He is honourable and has a rigid, and valid, moral code that many people agree with and follow. He cares about other people, even though he tries not to show it. That effort not to show it has its purpose, as well, to protect him, and to allow him to act upon his beliefs with the freedom he would not otherwise be allowed. Finally, the fact that he enjoys killing and sometimes seeks out ways to do so is not reason enough alone to believe that he is evil; not only because of the above arguments, but also because he tries to prevent himself from acting on those urges, in accordance with rules of behaviour and his own moral code. True, he sent Kenshin and Sanosuke on ahead so he could kill Usui, but who would really call it evil to kill Usui?
I hope you've enjoyed reading my little essay. If you have any comments, please, please email them to me. I will be posting any comments sent to me, and please feel free to refute any and all of my arguments. Feel free to agree with me, too. I will cheerfully post my replies, and maybe we'll get a good discussion going.
One last note: I am conducting a poll, as part of a bet with a friend of mine, so if you could include in any comments a rating on how evil you think Saitou is, I would appreciate it. The rating must be from 1 - 5, with 1 being very good, and 5 being dastardly evil. Doumo.
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