Japan in shock after 'brightest and best' of anime killed in arson attack by colleague claiming his idea was 'stolen'

Julian Ryall
33 people are known to have died in the blaze at an animation studio - AFP

Japan’s tight-knit anime industry was in shock on Friday after the deaths of 33 of the “brightest and best young talents” in an arson attack the previous day, with the suspect allegedly telling police that he started the blaze because Kyoto Animation had “stolen a novel” that he had written. 

Police have confirmed that a 41-year-old man - who has not been named - entered the offices of the company, better known as KyoAni, at around 10.30am on Thursday and emptied the contents of two canisters of a flammable liquid around the ground-floor lobby area. 

The suspect was allegedly heard to shout “Die” before using a lighter to start the blaze, the worst arson attack in Japan in more than two decades. 

Around 70 office staff and artists were in the building at the time, with witnesses describing hearing a number of explosions before thick smoke began pouring from the broken windows. 

Police and 35 fire engines were quickly on the scene, but many of the victims appear to have died of smoke inhalation as they tried to escape from the upper floors of the building.

The suspect was heard to shout “Die” before using a lighter to start the fire Credit: Asahi Shimbun

Police were able to apprehend the suspect, who had sustained burns to his arms, legs and torso and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The man reportedly admitted to starting the fire and police have also recovered knives and a hammer.

Authorites announced on Friday morning that the man has claimed that he caused the fire because the company had stolen his idea for a story. 

Hideaki Hatta, the president of the hugely popular anime studio, has confirmed that the company had been the target of death threats in the past but had worked with lawyers and the police to respond “sincerely” to every complaint it had received. 

“Why on earth did such violence have to be used?” Mr Hatta said in an interview with national broadcaster NHK. 

“It’s a tragedy; it’s absolutely horrible”, said Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese pop culture has invaded the US. 

“We understand that the suspect was not a former employee of the company so the obvious next conclusion is that it was an anime fan who has drawn some stuff and somehow believes that their idea for characters or an entire show has somehow been ripped off”, he told The Telegraph. 

“The deaths are a tragedy, but this is not a large industry and KyoAni is one of the best companies in the business, meaning that they attract the brightest and best young talents out there, so to lose so many artists is a disaster to the industry as well”, he said. 

“The anime world is really tight-knit and companies collaborate extensively on titles, so while this might appear to only impact one studio, in reality it will be felt across the sector.

“It will reverberate throughout the industry as a devastating loss”, he said.

On Friday, KyoAni announced that it had cancelled production of its Free! 2020 Summer animated movie, which was scheduled to be released next year. 

Sentai Filmworks, a Texas-based animation distributor that licenses several KyoAni works, set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to support the studio. The target of $750,000 was surpassed within hours and stood at more than $1.25 million on Friday afternoon.