Japan: Man sentenced to death for killing 36 in Kyoto anime fire

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Shinji Aoba opened fire at a Kyoto animation studio in 2019, killing 36 people.

In 2019, a Japanese man was sentenced to death for killing 36 people and injuring dozens more at a Kyoto animation studio.

The incident, one of Japan's worst in recent decades, killed mostly young artists and shocked the anime world.

Shinji Aoba, 45, pleaded guilty to the attack, but his lawyers sought a lighter sentence on the grounds of “lack of mental capacity”.

The judges rejected this, ruling that Aoba knew what he was doing.

“I have determined that the defendant was not mentally insane or weak at the time of the crime,” Chief Justice Masuda told the Kyoto District Court on Thursday.

“The death of 36 people is very serious and tragic. The fear and pain of the dead is indescribable,” he was quoted as saying by Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The fire spread and trapped the upper floors of the studio, killing many of the animation staff – young artists.

The attack was one of the worst in recent decades and sparked national mourning in Japan. The public and the media are closely following this case.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Aoba, saying he was motivated to attack the studio by believing his work was stolen. He claimed that Kyodo Animation – known as KyoAni – stole a novel he had entered in their competition.

In July 2019, he burst into the studio during a workday, spraying the ground floor with gasoline and repeatedly shouting “drop dead”.

He later said he didn't think so many people would die during his September 2023 trial.

“I felt I had no choice but to do what I did,” he said at the time.

“I am very sorry and the feeling includes guilt.”

Aoba suffered burns over 90% of his body in the fire and was arrested only after he recovered from the operations.

image source, Good pictures

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Ayoba told the court last year that he did not think so many people would be killed

“The delusion that KeoAni Studio had stolen his work influenced his motivation,” prosecutors told the court.

But they said he was not constrained by such illusions and had full capacity and understanding of his actions.

On Thursday, the judge read a lengthy statement with victim witnesses before announcing the verdict. More than half of the animation studio's 70-person workforce was killed in the incident, and another 32 were injured.

“Some of them have seen their colleagues engulfed in flames, some of them are suffering psychological effects and they are tormented by feelings of guilt and remorse,” Justice Masuda said.

Families of the victims were seen in the courtroom, with many emotional as the judge read the details of Ayoba's crime, NHK reported.

The outlet reported that Ayoba had her head bowed as the judge read out the death sentence.

Japan retains the death penalty for the most serious crimes, such as multiple murders. Convicts typically remain on death row for years or decades. Execution is carried out.

Kyoto-based KyoAni Studio is a beloved company known for producing films and graphic novels that are well-regarded by fans and critics alike – including K-On! and Haruhi Suzumiya's depression.

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