Japanese man admits to starting deadly Kyoto Animation studio fire

Shinji Aoba, who accused the studio of taking his ideas, said 'Now I think I went too far'

An aerial view shows firefighters battling fires at the site where a man started a fire after spraying a liquid at a three-story studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in Kyoto, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo, July 18, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
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A Japanese man – reportedly angry that his ideas had been stolen – admitted on Tuesday to starting a fire that killed 36 people in 2019, local media said.

The blaze that ripped through the studios of Kyoto Animation in July 2019 shocked the anime industry and its fans in Japan and around the world.

“It's correct, I did what is in the charges", Shinji Aoba, 45, said at the Kyoto District Court, according to the Jiji Press news agency.

“I didn't think so many people would die and now I think I went too far,” he said appearing in a wheelchair.

Aoba's lawyers however pleaded not guilty, citing mental incompetence, the reports said.

Aoba, who nearly died from burns he himself sustained, faces five charges including murder, attempted murder and arson, according to local prosecutors.

He is accused of breaking into the studio's building, spreading gasoline around the ground floor and setting it alight before reportedly shouting “drop dead”.

Many of those killed in the blaze were young staff, including a woman, aged 21. More than 30 others were injured.

Firefighters told reporters at the time that the incident was “unprecedented” and the mission to rescue victims and extinguish the fire was “extremely difficult”.

Aoba's motives were unclear but there have been claims that he accused the studio of stealing his work, which Kyoto Animation has denied.

The studio's president Hideaki Hatta said he was “heart-broken for the employees who lost their lives and people who were close to them” ahead of the hearing, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The charges were made after a psychiatric evaluation, local media said.

More than 90 per cent of Aoba's skin was burnt and a doctor who treated him told the Yomiuri newspaper this week that he required 12 operations.

Aoba regained consciousness weeks later and apparently sobbed with relief after undergoing a procedure that restored his ability to speak.

His doctor, Takahiro Ueda, said that the police would not allow him to talk about the incident, but that he had told Aoba that “taking someone's life is not acceptable for any reason”.

“I want him to explain everything at the court, and express sincere regret and apologise” to the victims and their families, the doctor said on Sunday.

Kyoto Animation, known by its fans as KyoAni, is well known domestically and abroad 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 western city of Kyoto.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 7:05 AM