Japan man charged with murder over anime studio arson

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese prosecutors yesterday charged a man with murder over the 2019 arson attack on Kyoto Animation that killed 36 people, local media said, the country’s deadliest violent crime in decades.

Shinji Aoba, 42, was detained in the aftermath of the July attack, but has been hospitalised since then with severe burns sustained in the incident, and reportedly only regained consciousness in August. The charges, which the Kyoto Shimbun newspaper said also included attempted murder and arson, came after a psychiatric evaluation of Aoba.

The Kyoto prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation of the charges.

Over 30 people were also injured in the attack, in which Aoba is accused of breaking into the studio’s building, spreading gasoline around the ground floor and setting it alight.

Aoba reportedly confessed to the arson, and is said to have shouted “drop dead” before starting the fire.

There have been claims that he accused the studio of stealing his work, which Kyoto Animation denied doing.

Many of those killed in the blaze were young, including a 21-year-old woman.

Aoba nearly died of the injuries he sustained in the attack, a doctor who treated him told the Kyoto Shimbun newspaper recently. He required 12 surgeries to apply skin grafts and the hospital opted to use Aoba’s own skin rather than a graft bank “to avoid shortages of skin for (his) victims”, the doctor said.

Aoba only regained consciousness in August, he added, and apparently sobbed with relief after undergoing a procedure in September that restored his ability to speak.

Kyoto Animation, known by its fans as KyoAni, is well-known both domestically and internationally for its role in producing popular TV anime series including The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and K-ON!

While many animation studios are based in Tokyo, the firm reportedly felt strongly about remaining in the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto.

Its work often featured elaborate screenshots described as ‘KyoAni quality’ by enthusiastic fans.

Arson is considered a particularly serious offence in Japan, where many buildings are made of wood and extremely fire-prone.