TOKYO – An alleged arson attack on a respected Japanese animation studio left a shocked nation grieving, as investigators looked to identify victims and determine a possible motive in one of the deadliest acts of violence in Japan's modern history.
A total of 33 people – many of them young – were killed a day earlier when a man appeared to douse flammable liquid through the Kyoto Animation Co. studio and set it alight, triggering an inferno, officials said. Some 36 others were injured, about 10 critically.
Police on Friday identified the suspect as Shinji Aoba, according to public broadcaster NHK. It said he had no connection with Kyoto Animation and he was thought to have been living near Tokyo.
The blaze at the production house struck at a pillar of Japan's anime industry, an obsession in the country and a cherished cultural export. Kyoto Animation, known as KyoAni, had produced hits such as "Lucky Star," "K-On!" and "Haruhi Suzumiya," winning worldwide acclaim for its skilled drawings.
Outside the charred shell of the company's workspace in Kyoto's outskirts on Friday, crowds of well-wishers left flowers and messages of support for the victims. Many bowed, or knelt down and prayed as they offered their respects.
Police investigators, meanwhile, scoured the three-story building. Their probe covers suspected arson, murder and attempted murder, the Kyodo news agency reported.
The suspect, aged 41, remained in the hospital after suffering burns all over his body, said Hiroyuki Sakai, deputy police chief in Fushimi, Kyoto. He said police would speak to the man once he had recovered sufficiently.
A woman who saw police detain the man a day earlier told reporters that he "seemed to be discontented, he seemed to get angry, shouting something about how he had been plagiarized," according to Reuters. Other reports suggested he mentioned that somebody had "stolen his novel."
Hideaki Hatta, a co-founder and president of Kyoto Animation, said Thursday that the studio had been receiving threats, including emails threatening murder. He said the attack had "broken our hearts."
Witnesses said they heard a man yell, "Die!" at startled employees just before the building erupted in flames.
The tragedy was the worst mass killing in Japan since 2001, when 44 people died in a suspected arson attack on a gambling parlor in Tokyo.
"We are at a loss to imagine what drove him to commit such an act of extreme violence, if he was the arsonist," the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said in a commentary on Friday.
The Kyoto Animation building did not have sprinklers or in-door hydrants, but neither was required under the fire code, a fire official told Reuters. The official said an inspection of the building in October found that extinguishers and emergency alarms were installed.
Violent crime is unusual in Japan. On social media, many people offered condolences and expressed shock at the loss of life. Some posted creative tributes under the hashtag #PrayForKyoani.
Messages of support flowed from around the world following the disaster, as well as from foreign diplomats in Japan.
Anime experts say Kyoto Animation has earned wide respect from fans for its unique style. A headline in local press described the company as "Japan's treasure."
A GoFundMe page set up by Sentai Filmworks, a Texas-based animation company, had raised $1.3 million for victims and their families by Friday afternoon in Japan.
Pixomondo, another visual-effects company, offered its support. The attack on Kyoto Animation was "an assault on art itself," CEO Jonny Slow said in a statement.