Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), a popular anime studio in Kyoto, Japan, was set ablaze early on Thursday morning, and according to Japanese media reports, officials have confirmed 33 people dead. Thirty-six people, some in critical condition, were also rushed to the hospital.
Multiple Japanese news sources, including the public broadcaster NHK, report that least 70 people were believed to have been inside KyoAni’s three-story building located in the Uji suburb of Kyoto at the time that a man broke into the building and started the fire.
Police confirmed eyewitness reports that a man entered the building and was seen dousing it with flammable liquid believed to be gasoline, before igniting it.
According to an official police account, a 41-year-old man broke into the Kyoto Animation studio building early on Thursday morning and set the building ablaze.
Neighbors who called police at about 10 a.m. said they heard an explosion and saw smoke billowing from windows in the upper floors of the building. They also saw blackened and bleeding people running out of the building. Some reported seeing a man trying to escape through the windows.
Rescue officials who arrived at the scene immediately set up a tent to provide first aid to victims.
Footage aired on national TV showed thick smoke billowing from the charred remains of the building which had several windows blown out.
Meanwhile, police said they have arrested the suspected 41-year-old arsonist. He was also injured in the incident and was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered condolences on Twitter, describing the incident as “appalling.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” he wrote in a Twitter statement. “I pray for those souls that perished. And for those who have suffered injuries, I extend my deepest sympathy and pray for the swiftest recovery.”
The fire reportedly broke out at about 10:30 local time on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday).
Firefighters who first entered the building said they found 13 people dead on the first and second floors of the three-story building, and 10 people “unresponsive” on the third floor. They also found people on the stairwell leading to the roof.
Police said they found knives in the building, and according to some media reports, the suspected arsonist was heard saying “drop dead” as he set fire to the building.
It took firefighters about five hours to bring the fire under control, according to reports.
Who is the arson suspect?
The man’s relationship with Kyoto Animation was unclear, but Japanese media reports said he was not a former employee of the company. The identity of the suspected arsonist still has not been released but he is in custody.
Eyewitness accounts said the man appeared to be angry and upset with the studio.
“He seemed to be in pain, irritated and suffering, but also angry as if he was resentful,” a resident said.
He was seen escaping from the building after he set it on fire. He reportedly ran towards a train station and fell to the ground along the way, according to the BBC. Some reports said that some employees of Kyoto Animation pursued him.
Kyoto Animation had received threatening emails
Meanwhile, Kyoto Animation Director Hideaki Hatta confirmed that the company’s sales department had received threatening emails. The emails “told us to die,” according to Hatta. He said they referred the threatening emails to their attorneys.
Since news of the tragic incident broke, fans have been posting messages to Twitter offering condolences, some under the hashtag #prayforkyoani. Fans have also been sharing images of the company’s works.
The voice artist SungWon Cho reacted on Twitter:
Several anime companies, including Sentai Filmworks and Honey’s Anime, also reacted on Twitter.
Fans set up GoFundMe page
Sentai Filmworks, a company based in the U.S, which specializes in Japanese anime, set up a GoFundMe page titled Help KyoAni Heal. The campaign has raised more than $700,000 in the first 10 hours.
The massive response is not surprising since Japanese anime has a huge following nationally and around the world.
Kyoto Animation, often abbreviated KyoAni, was founded in 1981 and is best known for works such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) and K-On!! (2010). The company’s recent TV series include Tsurune (2018-2019), Free! Dive to the Future (2018), and Violet Evergarden (2018).
Recent films include Sound! Euphonium: Oath’s Finale (2019), Free! -Road to the World- Dream (2019), the upcoming Violet Evergarden Gaiden: Eien to Jidō Shuki Ningyō (2019) and Violet Evergarden the Movie (2020).
It released A Silent Voice in 2016, and Netflix has picked up its Evergarden series. The company also publishes graphic novels.
As a result of the KyoAni fire, there will be some delays in upcoming anime features. It’s still to early to determine just how many of these highly-anticipated releases may be delayed or even canceled due to the fire.
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