Kyoto: A Japanese court on Thursday sentenced a man to death after finding him guilty of murder and other crimes for his involvement in a disturbing arson attack on an anime studio in Kyoto that claimed the lives of 36 people. The Kyoto District Court said it found Shinji Aoba mentally capable to face punishment for his crimes and announced the capital punishment after two-part court session on Thursday.
On July 18, 2019, Aoba stormed into Kyoto Animation’s No. 1 studio and set it ablaze, after which many of the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning and over 30 others were badly burned and injured. Aoba plotted the attacks after studying past criminal cases involving arson and was mentally capable, the court said in Thursday’s ruling.
The 45-year-old Aoba was severely burned and was hospitalised for 10 months before his arrest in May 2020. He appeared in court in a wheelchair. According to local media, Aoba was out of work and was struggling financially during the arson attack. He also reportedly plotted a separate attack on a train station north of Tokyo a month before the arson attack on the animation studio.
Judge Keisuke Masuda said Aoba had wanted to be a novelist but was unsuccessful and so he sought revenge, thinking that Kyoto Animation had stolen novels he submitted as part of a company contest, according to NHK. “The attack that instantly turned the studio into hell and took the precious lives of 36 people, caused them indescribable pain,” the judge said.
Japan’s deadliest incident in modern times
About 70 people were working inside the studio in southern Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, at the time of the attack. One of the survivors said he saw a black cloud rising from downstairs, then scorching heat came and he jumped from a window of the three-story building gasping for air.
The fire was Japan’s deadliest since 2001, when a blaze in Tokyo’s congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people, and it was the country’s worst-known case of arson in modern times. Aoba later said during his guilty plea in September 2023 that he did not think so many people would die. “I felt I had no other option but to do what I did. I feel tremendously sorry and the feeling includes a sense of guilt,” he said at the time.
Families of the victims were seen in the court room, with many visibly emotional as the judge read out the details of Aoba’s crime, BBC reported. Japanese media have described Aoba as being thought of as a troublemaker who repeatedly changed contract jobs and apartments and quarreled with neighbors.
Japan retains capital punishment for its most serious crimes, like multiple murders. Kyoto Animation, also known as KyoAni, was launched in 1981, and launched to popularity after a mega-hit anime series about high school girls. It is highly popular for producing films and graphic novels that are well-regarded by fans as well as critics.
(with inputs from AP)