A Japanese court has sentenced Shinji Aoba to death for his involvement in a horrifying arson attack on a Kyoto anime studio that claimed the lives of 36 individuals. The verdict was delivered by the Kyoto District Court, which found Aoba guilty of murder and other associated crimes.
The court determined that Aoba, who stormed into Kyoto Animation’s No. 1 studio on July 18, 2019, and set it ablaze, was mentally competent to face legal consequences for his actions. Following a recess in a two-part session, his death sentence was announced.
During the attack, Aoba yelled “You die!” as he set fire to the studio, resulting in numerous victims succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, while others sustained severe burns and injuries. Importantly, Aoba was not affiliated with Kyoto Animation Company, the renowned producer of popular TV series.
Judge Keisuke Masuda revealed that Aoba had aspirations of becoming a novelist but failed in his attempts. He believed that Kyoto Animation had plagiarized his submitted novels in a company contest, prompting his desire for revenge, as reported by NHK national television. Aoba, who had faced financial difficulties due to frequent job changes, had also plotted a separate attack on a train station north of Tokyo a month prior to the arson incident at the animation studio.
The court’s ruling highlighted Aoba’s premeditation of the crime, emphasizing his mental capacity in executing the attack. Judge Masuda expressed the immense pain inflicted upon the victims and the studio, referring to the incident as turning the studio into “hell.”
Aoba, aged 45, suffered severe burns during the arson and spent ten months in the hospital before his arrest in May 2020. He appeared in court in a wheelchair.
Despite the defense’s argument that Aoba was mentally unfit for criminal responsibility, the court delivered the death penalty.
The tragic attack unfolded at Kyoto Animation’s studio in southern Kyoto, Japan, with approximately 70 people present at the time. Survivors recounted the horror of escaping the building as flames engulfed it, with one individual describing a desperate leap from a window to escape the scorching heat.
The arson was particularly devastating due to the studio’s compact structure and limited exits, making it susceptible to an attack on the entrance. Aoba meticulously planned the crime and procured gasoline, which is heavily regulated in Japan and not typically sold in containers.
Kyoto Animation, often referred to as KyoAni, is renowned for producing a highly successful anime series featuring high school girls and for its role in training aspiring animators.
Aoba was described in Japanese media as a disruptive figure who frequently changed jobs, residences, and had disputes with neighbors. The 2019 fire stands as Japan’s deadliest since 2001 and one of the country’s most devastating cases of arson in modern history.