Japan: Man executed for Kyoto anime studio fire that killed 36

A Japanese national was given the death penalty in 2019 for an arson attack at an animation studio in Kyoto that claimed the lives of 36 individuals and injured dozens more.

The incident, one of the deadliest in recent Japanese history, shocked the anime community as it primarily claimed the lives of youthful artists.

Although Shinji Aoba, 45, entered a guilty plea for the assault, his attorneys had argued for a reduced sentence on the grounds of "mental incapacity."

The judges rejected this, concluding that Aoba was aware of his actions. "I have determined that the defendant was neither mentally ill nor frail at the time of the crime," Kyoto District Court Chief Judge Masuda stated on Thursday. "The lamentable loss of 36 lives is an extremely grave matter." "The agony and terror of the departed victims were beyond description," he reportedly told NHK.

A significant number of the animation crew perished as the fire engulfed the upper floors of the studio and confined them there.

The incident, one of the most disturbing in recent decades in Japan, prompted a period of national mourning. The media and public of the nation have intently followed the case.

The prosecution had sought capital punishment, alleging that author Aoba was incentivized to assault the studio due to his conviction that his work had been pilfered.

According to him, Kyoto Animation plagiarised a novel he submitted for a competition hosted by the company.

During a workday in July 2019, he stormed into the studio, poured fuel on the ground floor and set it on fire while yelling "Drop dead" repeatedly. Later, in September 2023, he admitted culpability and stated that he was uncertain as to how many individuals would become trapped in the structure.

He explained that at the time he believed he was compelled to do what he did via necessity.

Over ninety percent of Aoba's body was consumed in the fire; he was not apprehended until he had recovered from his injuries.

"His motivation was influenced by the false belief that Kyoto Animation Studio had plagiarised his work," prosecutors had told the court. However, they asserted that he was fully conscious and not influenced by the purported delusions; he also possessed complete capacity and awareness of his actions.

Prior to rendering the verdict, the judge read an extensive logic supported by victim testimonies. Over fifty-two of the animation studio's seventy-strong staff were injured and over fifty-two were slain in the incident.

Judge Masuda stated, "Some of them witnessed their colleagues consumed in flames, and others are afflicted with psychological effects and are tormented by feelings of guilt and remorse."

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that family members of the victims were observed in the courtroom, with some wiping away emotions as the judge described the details of Aoba's crime.

According to the source, Aoba bowed his head as the magistrate read the death penalty sentence. The death penalty is still applied to the gravest crimes in Japan, including multiple homicides.

Fans have held the KyoAni studio in Kyoto in high regard for its production of critically acclaimed films and graphic novels, such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and K-On!