Katsura Kogorō was the legendary young leader of the Chōshū Ishin-Shishi who, along with Ōkubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori, became one of the three key figures of the Meiji Restoration after they forged an alliance between former enemies Chōshū and Satsuma. After witnessing young Himura Kenshin's impressive performance in the Kiheitai, Katsura recruited the fourteen year-old swordsman into his service as a hitokiri in Kyoto and acts as the Battōsai's immediate superior during the Bakumatsu.
Though known throughout history as a ruthless radical leader unafraid to sacrifice people for his goals and the betterment of the nation, Katsura was nonetheless a particularly scrupulous person who would eventually give up his prominent government seat in protest against unwarranted military expansion. He was an open-minded and worldy person, as exampled in his desire to open Japan to the greater World Stage.
In Rurouni Kenshin, Katsura Kogorō is characterized as an intellectual, wise and benevolent mentor to the young Kenshin and frequently regrets the necessity of staining such a naive child's hands and soul with blood. He attempts to appeal to Kenshin's buried humanity, first by asking him to play a larger political role (which Himura declines) and then by asking Kenshin's mysterious companion Yukishiro Tomoe to serve as a calming "sheath" for Battosai's sharp, harsh nature. Though it is unclear what his role was historically in planning at the Ikeda-ya, but in the manga, the relatively moderate Katsura admits having been against the radical burning of the city.
- Takasugi Shinsaku - Katsura's best friend and compatriot, who was originally the first to recruit Himura into the Kiheitai. While a rambunctious and optimistic man, Shinsaku still served as a voice of reason for Katsura at times, even up to his imprisonment and death from tuberculosis.
- Himura Kenshin - Katsura's closest subordinate (other than his lieutenant, who was killed), Katsura felt tremendous guilt for plunging Kenshin into a life of a miserable murderer by hiring him as his assassin as well as being indirectly the cause for Tomoe's last days of turmoil as well.
- Yukishiro Tomoe - While initially suspicious of her eccentric mannerisms and unknown motive, he gradually began to see her as the gentle soul she was and hoped that she would serve as Kenshin's voice of reason. Like with Kenshin, Katsura felt supremely guilty about indirectly causing of the deaths of her fiancee and herself at the Battosai's hands.
- Ikumatsu - A geisha who was Katsura's lover and later his wife, Kogorō would spend a great deal of time with her even while balancing the burdens of heading the Chōshū Ishin-Shishi, remarking that "even a great warrior has time for love." After the Kinmon Incident, when Katsura was forced to go into hiding, he took Ikumatsu with him.
- I'izuka - Originally trusted as Katsura's loyal subordinate, he was revealed to have been a spy for the bakufu who had spilled the ishin shishi's secrets to the Shogunate's agents and had been behind the deaths of many of his supposed comrades. After discovering his treachery, Katsura had I'izuka assassinated by Shishio Makoto.
Besides his significant skills as a statesman, Katsura is described by Takasugi Shinsaku as a superb swordsman, second only to Sakamoto Ryōma. Apparently, Katsura was a master of Shintō Munen-ryū and had become the head of Renbei Hall before leaving to head the Chōshu Ishin Shishi. After the start of the Bakumatsu, however, Katsura realized that he had become a symbol of the Ishin Shishi and carried all the pure hopes of the people on his shoulders. As a person representing these feelings could not also be known as a murderer, he swore to never again draw his sword in any situation, even if he should become an embarrassment to his descendants. Shinsaku described him as the Mikoshi (portable shrine) of the "Bakumatsu Matsuri" (festival).
Development and Reception
In The Secret Life of Characters (12), Watsuki explains that he had developed his idea of Katsura Kogoro as an intellectual strategist consumed by deep thoughts and calculations paired with Takasugi's free-wheeling madman and feared that his interpretation would earn him angry fan-letters from other historical enthusiasts just as his Saitō Hajime had. As far as his image, Watsuki began with surviving photographs of Katsura, but immediately softened the image to make him more handsome and likable. He attributes Katsura's forelock to his assistant Hiroyuki Takei (later the creator of Shaman King), who suggested that it would add character.