KyoAni makes steady progress towards recovery after deadly arson attack, culprit shows no remorse 

The horrific arson incident that occurred on July 18, 2019, in a major studio of Kyoto Animation took the lives of 36 people and heavily injured 32 others. Four years later, the studio can be seen taking steady but definite steps towards overcoming the tragedy. On the other hand, as trials regarding the incident commence, the culprit makes no attempt to apologize or show remorse, as his defense pleads not guilty. 

In 2019, 176 members of Kyoto Animation, one of Japan’s major animation studios, were involved in the deadly arson attack, 40% of which were killed or suffered consequences. According to Sankei News, now, four years later, 20 employees of the studio have returned to work, while some continue to undergo medical treatment. Kyoto Animation has also reportedly resumed hiring activities, which had been halted for a while, and the studio now boasts a larger staff than before the incident. 

The studio is making vigorous efforts to continue their work. A year after the incident, KyoAni demonstrated their resilience, releasing Violet Evergarden: The Movie, and in August this year they released the highly anticipated special feature Sound! Euphonium: Ensemble Contest. 

In anticipation of the 5-year memorial of the incident in July 2024, the bereaved families are reportedly planning the installation of a monument at the sight of the incident, to convey gratitude for the support and prayers received from all over Japan and overseas. 

On the other hand, trials for the suspect Shinji Aoba (45) started on September 5 at the Kyoto District Court and, while admitting to all charges including murder, attempted murder, arson of an inhabited object, the defendant has made no apology or show of remorse. According to a field report by Gendai Business, the defense claims the suspect was non compos mentis and pleads not guilty, disputing his competency to bear responsibility. The report describes Aoba as calm and composed, speaking with no hesitance before the 50-something bereaved family members present in the courtroom. 

On the other hand, the prosecution argued that the defendant’s prideful, skeptical nature and tendency to blame others for personal failures led him to commit the act, and that he is able to assume full responsibility for the crime. 

The motive for the act has so far been defined as an “unjustified resentment” based on the defendant’s one-sided belief that his novel idea had been plagiarized by KyoAni animators. The defendant had reportedly developed the one-sided belief that a female director of KyoAni had praised and given him advice on his work over the anonymous textboard 2channel and developed romantic feelings for her online. After experiencing failure to get his work recognized in contests and online platforms, Aoba was finally triggered by the release of KyoAni’s “Tsurune,” which he had believed plagiarized his own work, and decided to take action against the female director. 

Multiple circumstances of the incident were cited to argument the planned nature of the act. The defendant had reportedly spent the three days leading up to the incident inspecting the different Kyoto Animation studios, ultimately deciding on the studio which seemed to have the biggest number of animators to commit the crime. In preparation for committing the arson, Aoba purchased all needed supplies at a nearby store, such as a gasoline canister, lighter, and buckets.

The defendant entered the studio twice, seemingly hesitating the first time and then re-entering after about 7 seconds. The prosecution interprets this as the moment Aoba consciously decided to commit the act. Upon re-entering the studio, the suspect poured gasoline on 6 employees, setting them on fire while proclaiming “Die!” After suffering burns to 93% of his body and collapsing after escaping the building, Aoba had reportedly kept exclaiming that his novel had been plagiarized. 

The trials are expected to continue until a ruling is handed down in January next year (The Mainichi), but the victims’ family members are expressing concern that they might keep hearing excuses from the defendant’s side throughout the hearings and hope for a maximum sentence to be handed.  


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