UJI, KYOTO PREFECTURE, JAPAN — An arson fire started has claimed the lives of 33 people working at the famous Kyoto Animation Studio in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. A man burst into the building Thursday morning at about 10:30 AM local time, spread an unidentified liquid (presumably gasoline) and touched off the blaze.

The fire broke out at the three-storey building at around 10:30 local time (01:35 GMT) on Thursday. More than 70 people were in the building at the start of the fire, but most were able to escape. According to Kyoto fire department official Kazuhiro Hayashi, however, another 36 people have been injured, 10 of them critically.

Hayashi says firefighters found the largest number of victims on the top floor of the three-story building, including some who had collapsed on the stairs leading to the roof. Two of the dead were found on the first floor, 11 on the second and 20 on the third floor.

Japanese media reports said the suspect may have set the fire at the front door, forcing people to try to find other exits and slowing their escape.

The outcome makes the case the deadliest fire since a 2001 fire that killed 44 in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his sorrow for the victims of the deadly fire. In his tweet Thursday, Abe said he was speechless at the horrendous scene of the building that gutted out by the explosion and fire.

Abe tweeted: “I express my condolences to the people who were killed, and pray for the earliest possible recovery of those who were injured.”

Kyoto Animation, known as KyoAni, produces films and graphic novels and is well regarded by fans for the quality of its productions.

The head of Kyoto Animation, Hideaki Hatta, told reports that the company had received death threats via email in the past, but had responded “sincerely” each time.

Hideaki Hatta, head of Kyoto Animation, told reporters the company had gotten threats by emails in the past but responded “sincerely” each time.

A man suspected of starting the fire Thursday was also injured and being treated in a hospital.

Who is the suspect?

Latest reports say the man is not a former employee – but eyewitnesses say he appeared to be angry with the animation studio, and reported that they saw the man running away from the building towards a nearby train station after the fire started but fell to the ground. Some reports said he was pursued by employees of Kyoto Animation.

“A person with singed hair was lying down and there were bloody footprints,” a 59-year-old woman living nearby told news agency Kyodo.

“He seemed to be in pain, irritated and suffering, but also angry as if he was resentful. I heard him saying something like ‘you copied it’,” a neighbor said. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted a 61-year-old neighbour as saying she clearly heard the man shout: “You ripped me off.”

About KyoAni

KyoAni (Kyoto Animation Studio) is a Japanese animation studio and a light novel publisher located in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. It was established in 1981 by former Mushi Pro staff. Presided by Hideaki Hatta, the company is also affiliated with the studio Animation Do.

The studio most recently released Violet Evergarden, Free! Dive to the Future and Tsuruni for television in 2018, and the motion pictures Sound! Euphonium: Oath’s Finale, Free! -Road to the World- Dream and Violet Evergarden Gaiden: Eien to Jidou? Shuki Ningyou? in 2019. They had been working on Violet Evergarden the Movie, and an untitled continuation of Free! due for release in 2020, but their ability to finish this film is now obviously in some doubt.

Since 2009, the company has proferred the Kyoto Animation Award for new stories, with the first work being published in 2011 as a light novel in their KA Esuma Bunko imprint which was created on the same year as well. As of 2015, Kyoto Animation has headed production for 21 anime series and several films. Unlike most animation studios, Kyoto Animation’s animators are salaried employees rather than freelance animators paid per frame. This allows Kyoto Animation animators to focus on quality over quantity.

Update

The following people are missing and presumed dead:

  • Takemoto Yasuhiro Director (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon?The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya)
  • Kawanami Eisaku Director (Free!-Timeless Medley-?Free!-Dive to the Future-)
  • Nishiya Futoshi Animation director (A Silent Voice?Liz and the Blue Bird; Nichijou?HYOUKA Character Design)
  • Kadowaki Miku Animation director (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon?Tsurune?Kyoukai no Kanata Character Design)

30 fire engines responded to the fire, and were able to extinguish the fire completely by 3:19 p.m. JST, five hours after the fire started. The fire broke out at the building around 10:30 a.m. JST on Thursday. Kyoto Prefectural Police have already apprehended a 41-year-old man who supposedly used a “gasoline-like liquid” to start the fire.

The suspect accuses KyoAni of plagiarism over Hibike! Euphorium being similar to the suspect’s own work, a novel. The suspect is not an employee of Kyoto Animation.

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