The man who set fire to the historic KyoAni studio building has just been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Disgruntled writer Shinji Aoba was tried for one of the most tragic murder cases in recent Japanese history, committing arson on the three-story Kyoto Animation studio back in 2019. The fire had caused the deaths of 36 people, most of whom were young artists trapped on the top floor, with another 34 victims reportedly injured.  

On July 18, 2019, Aoba broke his way into the studio and began splashing gasoline around the premises. He had reportedly been screaming “Drop Dead” according to reports of witnesses nearby. Aoba then ignited the gas with a lighter, which engulfed the building in flames. The perpetrator suffered burns to over 90% of his body and had undergone intensive treatment before Kyoto police could officially arrest him. 

According to a report by ABC, NHK also reported that Aoba, was out of work and struggling financially after repeatedly changing jobs. This included a plotted attack against a train station north of Tokyo a month before the arson was committed on the KyoAni studio. 

As for why he chose to burn down the studio, Aoba reportedly held a grudge against Kyoto Animation because he believed that the company had stolen his ideas based on novels he submitted for a competition. It was a claim that the court found no evidence of based on plagiarism.

In September 2023, Shinji Aoba pleaded guilty to the crime though his lawyers aimed for a reduced sentence by pleading insanity or ‘Mental incompetence”. According to a report by the BBC, the defendant also claimed that he did not think so many people would die. Aoba was instead given the full booking, sentenced guilty, and to be executed by capital punishment.

“I have determined that the defendant was not mentally insane or weak at the time of the crime,” Chief Judge Masuda said on Thursday at Kyoto District Court. When asked about the severeity of the crimes commited and its cost on the victims, he followed, “Some of them saw their colleagues engulfed in flames, and some of them are suffering from psychological effects, and they are tormented by feelings of guilt and remorse.”

Japan’s approach to capital punishment is still held in high regard in the country. It retains this sentencing for only its most serious crimes, with 98 executions in the past 24 years. Those convicted typically remain on death row for years, before being hung at an execution chambers in one of the country’s state-wide detention centers by long-drop hanging.

Kyoto Animation, or KyoAni, is a 35-year-old anime and light novel publish located in Japan’s historic lands of Kyoto. Created by husband and wife team Yoko and Hideaki Hatta, the studio is one of the rare Japanese animation studios that actually trains people in house and prioritizes salries to their employees over abusive freelance contracts. 

Created by husband and wife team Yoko and Hideaki Hatta, the studio is known for its popular works such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Violet Evergarden, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.