36 Confirmed Dead After Fire At Kyoto Animation, Suspected Arsonist In Custody [Updated]

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A fire, suspected to be arson, at a Kyoto, Japan animation studio has left at least 36 people dead and hospitalized more with injuries. A 41-year-old man, allegedly seen pouring a flammable liquid at the site and setting it on fire, has been taken into police custody.

This story has been updated since its original publication.

The fire occurred at the Studio 1 building of Kyoto Animation, one of Japan’s most popular producers of anime. At around 10 a.m. JST Thursday morning, residents living near the studio heard the sound of an explosion and saw smoke emitting from the building, which is located in Kyoto’s Fushimi ward.

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One witness said the suspect was screaming “Die” as he lit the fire. Another witness interviewed by the Asahi Shimbun said that she heard the suspect tell the police, in response to being asked why he allegedly started the fire: “They ripped me off.”A backpack and bag believed to belong to the man was found nearby. In it were several large knives and a hammer.

The man, 41-year-old Shinji Aoba, has reportedly never worked for Kyoto Animation nor is he directly connected to the company. He is currently in the hospital with serious burns. Aoba is quoted as saying, “I started the fire because my novel was stolen [by them].” This is similar to the remark he reportedly made saying he was ripped off.

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Kyoto Animation, founded in 1981, is known for anime like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star, K-On! and more recently, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and Free!, among many others. While the building that was set on fire was its main animation studio, the company’s head office is in Uji City, Kyoto, which is about 20 minutes away by car.

The company’s co-founder and CEO Hideaki Hatta told reporters that for the past few years, death threats had often been sent to the company.

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The grandfather of a 21-year-old woman who died in the fire told TBS News, “Since that kid loved drawing, her dream was anime... If I could’ve changed places with her, I would have wanted to.” She had recently been hired by Kyoto Animation. The grandfather added that he wanted to see his granddaughter’s face if only one more time.

In the aftermath of the event, fans have posting messages, expressing sorrow and offering condolences using a #prayforkyoani hashtag on Twitter.

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A list of updates is below.

Updated: 10/7/2019, 6:00 a.m. ET: Another person has been confirmed dead, bringing the total to 36. The victim, a woman in her 20s, was able to escape from the building’s entrance but suffered extensive burns all over her body. She died in a hospital ICU on October 4 due to septic shock.

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Updated: 7/29/2019, 5:00 a.m. ET: Another death has been announced as a result of the Kyoto Animation fire. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Updated: 7/22/2019, 5:19 a.m. ET: Kyoto Animation CEO Hideaki Hatta is quoted as saying that besides the unbearable loss of lives, the studio also lost all its past drawings and animation documents as well as all its computers, causing huge financial damage to the company as well.

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Updated: 7/22/2019, 3:00 a.m. ET: Another person has been confirmed dead, bringing the total to 34. The article and title have been updated to reflect this.

Updated: 7/19/2019, 6:44 a.m. ET: According to authorities, out of the 33 confirmed dead, 28 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The other five were consumed by the fire.

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Updated: 7/19/2019, 6:38 a.m. ET: Aoba is quoted as saying, “I started the fire because my novel was stolen [by them].” This quote has been added as well as a quote from a grandfather whose granddaughter perished in the fire.

Updated: 7/19/2019, 4:28 a.m. ET: The name of the 41-year-old man in police custody has been released: Shinji Aoba.

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Updated: 7/19/2019, 1:00 a.m. ET: A bag and a backpack believed to belong to the suspected arsonist was found nearby. In it were several large knives and a hammer. This information has been added to the original article.

Updated: 7/19/2019, 12:54 a.m. ET: According to one former firefighter speaking on Japanese TV, it appears as the fire spread quickly up through the spiral staircase, which acted as a chimney of sorts to funnel the heat, smoke and flames.

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Updated: 7/18/2019, 6:18 p.m. ET: The 41-year-old man in police custody has reportedly never worked for Kyoto Animation nor is he directly connected to the company. He is currently in the hospital with serious burns. Also added an additional comment attributed to the suspect reported by the Asahi Shimbun.

Updated: 7/18/2019, 6:09 p.m. ET: NHK has released a floorplan of the studio, which shows a spiral staircase near the studio’s entrance and another staircase that leads to the roof. NHK reports that the studio also has an elevator.  

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Updated: 7/18/2019, 8:26 a.m. ET: Thirty-three people have been confirmed dead.

Updated: 7/18/2019, 7:09 a.m. ET: Twenty-five people have been confirmed dead.

Updated: 7/18/2019, 6:09 a.m. ET: Fans have posting messages, expressing sorrow and offering condolences using a #prayforkyoani hashtag on Twitter.

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Updated: 7/18/2019, 5:18 a.m. ET: Kyoto Animation CEO Hideaki Hatta told reporters that for the past few years, death threats have often been sent to the company.

Updated: 7/18/2019, 4:36 a.m. ET: Sixteen people are now confirmed dead, the Japanese TV media reports.

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Updated: 7/18/2019, 3:30 a.m. ET: An announcement scheduled tomorrow for Kyoto Animation’s new Free! movie has been canceled. [Editor’s note: This update originally stated that the movie had been canceled. It has not. We regret the error.]

Updated: 7/18/2019, 3:08 a.m. ET: The Japanese media is now reporting that seven people are confirmed dead.

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Updated: 7/18/2019, 12:59 a.m. ET: One witness said the suspect was screaming “die” as he lit the fire.

Updated: 7/18/2019, 12:46 a.m. ET: According to Japanese TV news, there are still people trapped in the studio and there are 20 people who are still unaccounted for.

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Earlier: Sankei News reported that 38 employees have been taken to the hospital for major and minor injuries. ANN added that nine people are unconscious. According to Kyoto Shimbun, one person is reported dead.

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About the author

Brian Ashcraft

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored five books, including most recently, Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit.