January 25, 2024, 04:56 GMT
Updated 2 hours ago
Shinji Aoba set a fire at the Kyoto Animation Studio in 2019, killing 36 people
A Japanese man has been sentenced to death for an arson attack on an animation studio in Kyoto in 2019 that killed 36 people and injured dozens more.
The incident, one of the deadliest in Japan in recent decades, killed mostly young artists and shocked the anime world.
Shinji Aoba, 45, pleaded guilty to the attack, but his lawyers had asked for a lighter sentence because of “mental incompetence.”
However, the judges rejected this and ruled that Aoba knew what he was doing.
“I have found that the defendant was neither mentally ill nor weak at the time of the crime,” Chief Judge Masuda said at the Kyoto District Court on Thursday.
“The deaths of 36 people are extremely serious and tragic. The fear and pain of the deceased victims was indescribable,” Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.
Many of the animation staff – young artists – died after being trapped in the upper floors of the studio as the fire spread.
The attack was one of the deadliest cases in recent decades and sparked national mourning in Japan. The country's public and media have followed the case closely.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Aoba, saying he was motivated to attack the studio because he believed his work had been stolen. He said Kyoto Animation – known as KyoAni – plagiarized a novel he submitted to their competition.
In July 2019, he stormed into the studio on a workday, sprayed gasoline on the ground floor and set it on fire while repeatedly shouting “drop down.”
He later said at his guilty plea in September 2023 that he did not believe so many people would die.
“I felt like I had no choice but to do what I did,” he said at the time.
“I am incredibly sorry and the feeling also includes a feeling of guilt.”
Aoba himself suffered burns to over 90% of his body in the fire and was only arrested after he had recovered from the operations.
Image source: Getty Images
Aoba said in court last year that he did not believe that many people would be killed
“The delusion that KyoAni Studio had plagiarized his work influenced his motivation,” prosecutors had told the court.
But they said he was not controlled by such delusions and had full capacity and understanding for his actions.
On Thursday, the judge read out a detailed statement of reasons with victim statements before announcing the verdict. More than half of the animation studio's 70 employees died in the incident and another 32 were injured.
“Some of them saw their colleagues go up in flames, others suffer psychological consequences and are tormented by feelings of guilt and remorse,” Judge Masuda said.
The victims' families were seen in the courtroom, many of them visibly moved as the judge read out the details of Aoba's crimes, NHK reported.
The outlet reported that Aoba kept his head bowed as the judge read the death sentence.
Japan retains the death penalty for its most serious crimes, such as multiple murders. Those convicted typically remain on death row for years or even decades. The death penalty is carried out by hanging.
The KyoAni studio in Kyoto is a beloved institution known for producing films and graphic novels that are well-regarded by fans and critics alike – including K-On! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Watch: The fire raged at the animation studio's headquarters in July 2019