Kyoto Animation Studio Arson Kills 33, Shocking Japan

TOKYO — The attacker was heard screaming “Die!” as he ignited the liquid he had splashed around an anime studio in Japan.

Within minutes the studio, Kyoto Animation, was a scene of horror: a man hanging from a ledge as flames licked the walls; a pile of bodies on a staircase leading to the roof; a barefoot woman so badly burned that all a bystander could do was spray her with water and wait for help.

By the time the fire was doused, 33 people had died and three dozen had been injured, shocking a nation considered one of the world’s safest. The blaze appeared to be its worst mass killing in decades, and prompted a global outpouring of grief, especially among fans of anime — a school of animation that has become synonymous with Japan.

The attack shook a country still reeling from a stabbing rampage in a Tokyo suburb just weeks ago. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the latest attack left him “at a loss for words.”

There was little known Thursday about the man believed to have set the fire or his motives. The Kyoto police described him only as a 41-year-old man, and NHK, the public broadcaster, said he had been detained and hospitalized with burns.

Citing the Kyoto police, the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest mainstream dailies, reported that the man had entered the building screaming “Die!” and then tried to escape, but collapsed on the street outside. He was captured by members of the studio’s staff.

The cultural reaction to Thursday’s fire reflected Kyoto Animation’s popularity among fans of anime, the genre of Japanese cartooning that is common in the country’s popular culture and one of its major soft-power exports.

Unlike most major anime studios, which are based in Tokyo, Kyoto Animation chose to build its operations in another regional hub, a city admired for its historical beauty and a popular destination for tourists.

The devastation at the studio, said fans, would rip a hole in the anime world.

“Will it come across to people who are not familiar with anime that the fire at Kyoto Animation studio is ‘a loss of culture,’ as if museums get destroyed by fire in an instant?” one wrote on Twitter.

“Today, we had many casualties in a fatal arson attack that happened in Kyoto,” he wrote on Twitter. “It is so horrifying that I am at a loss for words. I’d like to express my deepest condolences to the victims. I offer my thoughts to those who have been wounded and pray for their recovery.”

Witnesses who spoke to Japanese news outlets described grim scenes near the studio.

According to The Mainichi Shimbun, a large daily, a woman in her 60s who lives near the building said she had seen a young woman, her entire body burned, screaming and running into a nearby shop, begging for help. The young woman was bleeding, her clothing torn and her feet bare, the witness said.

“It took a long time until the ambulance arrived,” she told The Mainichi. “All I could do was to spray water over her under the fire department’s instruction.”

According to NHK, the police are investigating a report by a clerk at a gas station, about a quarter mile from the studio, who said a man in his 30s or 40s, wearing a red T-shirt and a backpack, bought about 10 gallons of gas at 10 a.m. Thursday. The man carried away the two gas cans on a hand cart, saying he would use them in a power generator, the broadcaster reported.

The Kyoto City Fire Department said 20 people had been found dead on the third floor of the building, some lying on top of one another on a staircase leading to the rooftop, according to news reports.

When rescuers reached the roof, the door was closed, though not locked.

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