Japan's Anime Industry in Anguish Over Kyoto Arson Attack

Kyoto Fire 2 - Getty - H 2019
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In the wake of Japan’s worst mass murder in decades, statements of solidarity came from 'Your Name' director Makoto Shinkai, Netflix's Japan office and veterans throughout the industry.

Japan's anime industry, a pillar of the country's popular culture, was collectively stricken Friday in the aftermath of the deadly arson attack on Kyoto Animation.

As local police continued to pursue answers, an outpouring of grief for the 33 people killed in the mass murder — Japan's worst in decades — spread far across social media. The most common refrain in the response from local anime figures was pure shock at the scale of the devastation.

"I don’t know what to think," tweeted Yutaka Yamamoto, a veteran animation director who previously worked at Kyoto Animation. "I keep asking myself, Why, why, why?!"

Despite its relatively small scale, Kyoto Animation — or KyoAni, as it is known to its many fans around the world — had an outsized influence on Japan's anime community, producing numerous cult works and earning a reputation for treating its employees better than most studios. The company also contributed work to several of Studio Ghibli's early animation classics, such as Kiki's Delivery Service, and it licensed some of its own signature titles to Netflix.

Makoto Shinkai, director of Your Name, Japan's highest-grossing anime film ever (with a box office of $358 million) was among the first to react to the news as it was unfolding on Thursday, tweeting, "All those of Kyoto Animation Co., please be safe."

The filmmaker then had the misfortune of world premiering his much-anticipated latest anime feature, Weathering With You, at a Toho cinema in Tokyo at midnight Friday — in the immediate wake of the Kyoto tragedy. Shinkai addressed the fire in a few remarks before the red-carpet screening, according to the Japan Times, saying: "We are all fellows in the same boat. If we continue to create without being afraid, we will find solace — and that's what we should do."

Netflix Japan's anime division was also among those to offer condolences late Thursday, posting a statement in Japanese that read: "We sincerely pray for the victims of the tragedy that occurred in Kyoto. We are impressed by the wonderful work created by Kyoto Animation. We hope that peaceful days for all of the victims will return as soon as possible."

Noriko Hidaka, an acclaimed voice actress known for voicing one of the leads of the popular anime series Touch, tweeted, "I simply don't know what to say in seeing the news about Kyoto Animation."

Fellow voice actress Emi Ogata said, "We will never be able to forgive this."

The 41-year-old perpetrator of the attack was identified by police on Friday as Shinji Aoba. Aoba walked into Kyoto Animation's main production building Thursday morning carrying some 11 gallons of gasoline, sprayed the fluid around the office and onto onlookers, and set it alight. The fire ripped through the building, killing 33 and injuring 36. Aoba staggered out of the building, himself on fire, and was apprehended not long after. He reportedly told police he had started the fire because the studio "stole [his] ideas."

Sentai Filmworks, a Texas-based distributor that has released KyoAni productions internationally, launched a GoFundMe campaign on Thursday soliciting donations for KyoAni and the victims.