Hakuoki Shinkai Fūkaden [Hajime Saito Route]
Saito is one of my favorite characters. In fact, he ranked first in the Otomate characters popularity poll, making him the most popular character amongst all characters from Otomate games. Sadly to say, as much as I love Saito, I don’t like the story of his route that much.
Before talking about the positives, I think it’s best to let out what I don’t like from his route. In the original game, my problem with Saito’s route was his romance with Chizuru. I found their progressing romance was too subtle to my liking. Fortunately, Kyoto Winds and Edo Blossoms included additional content from Stories of Shinsengumi, making their attraction towards each other more believable and natural, even though their romantic moments only happened in the last chapters.
There will be HEAVY SPOILERS! Read at your own risk, don’t say I haven’t warned you!
What hasn’t changed is my dislike for Kazama in this route. My heart was crying when watching how Kazama was portrayed in this route. It was out of character if you ask me. It was made clear from the very beginning that he considered Furies as fakes and he strongly uphold the Demon Code. Here, however, he technically went against the very Demon Code for a contradicting reason. For one, Kazama actually willing to work with Kodo and supported his Fury research, which completely contradicted how before he all talked about Furies shouldn’t exist and stop turning humans into fake demons, etc. His desire for demons to take over Japan also seemed to come out of nowhere. He said it himself that involving themselves into human affairs is not how demons supposed to live. I don’t even need to elaborate more on Kodo. He’s even more of a lunatic than he was in other routes.
Okay, I guess that’s enough for my dislikes. I don’t want to go on too much of what I don’t like from this route. So, continue what I love from this route: Saito himself.
Saito was one of the best swordsmen in the Shinsengumi, on the same level as Okita who was considered a prodigy. Saito is the typical kuudere type of character. Calm, mature, stoic and hardly loses his focus compared to other members of the Shinsengumi. Despite his lack of facial expression, Saito was not emotionless. He’s concerned for his friends’ well being and would help them in his own way. There were moments where he could be embarrassed and shy, which made him super cute, especially when he’s blushing! Not forgetting how he was quick to fire up when it comes about swords to the point he entered his own world. I have quite a weakness against cool-type characters like Saito. (^////^)
Because of his nature, he was very obedient to every command given to him and would carry it out without question. As a result, many mistakenly believed him to be void of emotions. The same way Okita was loyal to Kondo, Saito was loyal to Hijikata and willingly follows his leadership. He respects Hijikata so much that he believed his every word, being the only one who believed in the efficacy of Ishida Sanyaku, Hijikata’s family’s medicine (it’s actually a quacky medicine), and wishing to read his haiku collection. Hijikata in return always entrusted him with doing dirty jobs for the Shinsengumi. In fact, Saito admitted that he and Okita made the most kills among the Shinsengumi warriors. Saito is master of iai, so his sword technique is perfect for quick assassination.
Saito’s internal struggle for his character development lies in losing sight of what he believed as a warrior. Saito’s life revolved around the sword. He dedicated his life to his swordsmanship. Before meeting Hijikata and the others, he was never acknowledged as a true warrior simply because he was left-handed. No matter how strong he was and how many people he defeated, no one was willing to accept him just because he wasn’t right-handed. And when he tried to prove his left-handed swordsmanship, he was accused of cheating. This didn’t deter Saito’s determination in the least to continue the path of warrior. This was the first reason I love Saito. I really admired Saito for standing up to what he believes in regardless of social pressure.
To Saito, death was nothing to be feared. What he feared was losing sight of what he believes. From his experience, he learned that names mean nothing on the battlefield. What’s the point of reputation in a battle to the death where the rule is either killed or to be killed? Your survival in battle doesn’t depend on your reputation, but your skill. After years of questions, Saito concluded that true strength was with their blade. Whoever wins is the strongest. He personally believed that it is within a true warrior’s nature to have their sword at the ready to kill when challenged, and Saito did exactly that. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that very few people agreed with him. Upholding this belief, he didn’t hesitate to kill a hatamoto when he was challenged, which was a heavy crime that caused his samurai registry to be revoked.
Despite having a talent, no one supported him, so Saito must rely on his own measures for both strength and honor for validation, something that was difficult to navigate. Saito’s loneliness ended once he met Hijikata and the others at Shiei Hall, whose belief aligned with him as to them victory means cutting down their enemies. For the first time he finally found people who understood him and gave him the acknowledgement that he longed and deserved.
Unfortunately for Saito, times have changed. Age of guns was approaching, rendering any swords useless. All those years Saito spent in polishing his fangs now came to nothing as the sword no longer has any place in war. His very way of life was threatened by passage of time, making Saito questioned his place in the new era once samurai and katana are no longer needed. To him, the Shinsengumi was the only place where he can be a true warrior and without it and his sword, he will lose the meaning of his life. He has nowhere else to go.
His belief came into question when Shinpachi gave him a hint: Saito should choose his own master, his own place. And then again, he was put to another test when one of their long-time friends betrayed them. Saito couldn’t help but wonder where they had gone wrong. Unlike those who became Furies and have difficulty accepting the fact they’re not human anymore or have their life shortened, Saito has no reservations of no longer being a human as long as he’s still a warrior. He was more worried that if he succumbs to bloodlust, he’ll forget everything that defines him as a warrior.
From Chizuru, Saito realized that what it takes to be a true warrior is not a position to be won nor the weapon that is used, but is the deeds, the way of life that someone takes. When he doubted himself, Chizuru emphasized how strong he was: he kept using his left-hand instead of trying to adapt with the right-hand despite all the dojo he had joined tried to correct him. Saito refused to change his hand because there’s nothing to change. Why would he need to change and use his right hand, and allow his technique to suffer? That’s exactly what Chizuru thought made Saito strong. He stuck by his decision and fought for it, making him one of the best warriors out there.
Before, Saito was confused about his place in the war and what he’ll do once the war is over, when the age of the sword ends. He found solace in Chizuru, who believed in him, that he would never lose sight of his belief. He realized that even if his right to carry a sword is taken away, it doesn’t make him any less a warrior as long as his action rings through to what his heart tells him. This was what Saito needed to follow his conscience and for the first time disobeying Hijikata’s order. And Hijikata couldn’t be more proud of him. Even though they went separate ways, their bond as Shinsengumi warriors was still there as both still carried the true essence and creed of the Shinsengumi: Fighting for what they believe.
Other than Saito, I also found Amagiri appealing. Amagiri is a demon who can be considered as Saito’s rival the same way as Hijikata-Kazama, Sano-Shiranui, and Okita-Kaoru. Truthfully, I’m quite surprised that Amagiri appeared more in Saito’s route instead of Heisuke. I had expected him to appear as some sort of rival for Heisuke due to their confrontation at Ikeda Inn and the Aburano Koji skirmish. But after playing Saito’s route and watching the Stories of Shinsengumi DLC from Amagiri’s perspective, yeah, I think Saito suits Amagiri more as a rival.
Amagiri was Kazama’s close confidant even though they didn’t exactly like each other (more from Kazama’s side). His clan and Kazama have known each other for a long time and so, they worked together for the Satsuma to repay their clans’ debt. In most of his appearances, Amagiri served as a voice of reason for Kazama to keep him in line. He was very polite even to his enemies and prefers to avoid unnecessary confrontations or settle things peacefully.
I liked how Amagiri’s character was more explored. Due to his position, Amagiri always obeyed Kazama’s order, though there were times he would stop Kazama if he’s “playing” too far or straying from the Demon Code. However, before that, he’s at foremost, a warrior. He didn’t think much about humans and most likely didn’t think too well of them like demons in general. He would’ve preferred to avoid getting involved with them if not for his responsibilities.
Things changed for him when he met Saito. The moment they first met, Amagiri knew that Saito was no ordinary swordsman. He was stronger than any other humans he encountered. After fighting him himself, he realized that Saito’s swordsmanship surpassed most demons and acknowledged him to be an opponent strong enough to kill him if given even the slightest bit of opening.
He and Saito found mutual understanding and respect due to their pride as warriors despite being enemies. It was from this pride and respect that Amagiri was willing to betray Kazama at the end when Kazama insulted Saito’s pride as a warrior. This proved that Amagiri was not just an obedient subordinate of Kazama. If Kazama’s action went too far against his conscience, Amagiri would fight against him even knowing full well that Kazama was stronger.
I’m always amazed by how Amagiri was able to put up with Kazama for so long, considering how Kazama usually behaves. If it were me, I don’t think I can have that much patience handling Kazama. If it weren’t for his position, Amagiri wouldn’t try to take Chizuru by force, knowing that she chose to be with the Shinsengumi of her own volition.
Demons associating with humans are usually not considered well for demons, but Amagiri respected Chizuru’s choice to be with Saito. His meeting with Saito gave Amagiri new hope. For most of his life, all he had seen were either humans exploiting and using demons or demons hating humans. Seeing Saito and Chizuru, a human and a demon, forming a loving relationship, gave Amagiri hope, despite knowing how foolish it sounds, that perhaps there’ll be a day where humans and demons can coexist together.
Overall, Saito’s route was enjoyable, not counting the out-of-character-Kazama and the lunatic Kodo. Saito’s change from someone who willingly threw his life away to someone who was determined to continue fighting for the sake of living was the best part of the route. Still, I would’ve liked it better if they showed more of Saito’s shy side like in Shinsengumi Adventures and Memories of Love extra in Stories of the Shinsengumi. That side of Saito, again, is extremely cute! Listening to the Drama CDs also made me like him even more! I don’t have much to say about Chizuru other than she’s okay. Still, nice job for her being upfront with Saito, it brought out cute reactions from him! (^w^)