Japan Arson Attack: Why Studio Kyoto Animation Is Widely Respected in the Anime World

A SILENT VOICE - Still 1 -Annecy Film Festival - H 2017
Courtesy of Annecy Film Festival

Known by fans as KyoAni, the company is famous for licensing some of its anime productions to Netflix and giving its employees the time and creative space to work on their craft, a rarity in the industry.

Kyoto Animation, the Japanese anime studio hit by a devastating arson attack Thursday morning — Japan's worst mass murder in the post-war era — built its reputation on beautifully crafted productions, thought-provoking stories and the decent treatment of its animators.

KyoAni, as it is known by its many fans around the world and in the industry, started in 1981, centered around a team led by husband and wife Hideaki and Yoko Hatta, who serve as president and vice president, respectively.

Employing more female directors and writers than most anime studios, KyoAni has produced numerous series and features led by schoolgirl characters, including K-On!, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Tamako Market and Sound! Euphonium.

In 2009, it established the locally influential Kyoto Animation Award for novels and manga, making many of the winners into anime productions. In 2014, Violet Evergarden won the grand prize and was turned into an anime series in 2016. It was licensed by Netflix in 2018 and is available to the streaming giant's subscribers worldwide. A spinoff feature film was due out in September, with a sequel set for release next year. The status of the features remains unclear in the wake of Thursday's tragedy. 

Another huge success for the studio is A Silent Voice by Naoko Yamada. Addressing urgent social issues in Japan, including physical impairment, bullying and suicide, it was lauded by many critics and holds a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It debuted behind smash hit Your Name in Sept. 2016, but went on to bring in nearly $20 million in Japan and $33 worldwide. It won the best animation honor at the Japan Movie Critics Awards, played in competition at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 2017 and was also picked up by Netflix.

Pay in the anime industry in Japan is infamously low for many artists, who often work grueling hours on a freelance, per-image basis with little security. Many were surprised, for example, when Studio Ghibli recently advertised for experienced animators to work on its new films on short-term contracts starting at just $2,300 (?250,000) a month.

However, KyoAni is known for making its animators permanent employees and allowing them more time to work on their craft, something many anime aficionados see reflected in the quality of its productions.

No motive for the arson attack has yet been reported, but the suspect has admitted deliberately starting the fire.

Messages of support and sympathy have been flooding in from around the world, and a GoFundMe campaign, started by Sentai Filmworks, a Texas-based distributor that has released KyoAni productions, had raised more than $250,000 by Thursday evening Japanese time.