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Japan studio boss at loss for words as he mourns bright, young staff

Thursday’s attack on Kyoto Animation, famous in Japan and overseas for its series and movies, was the worst mass killing in two decades in a country with some of the world’s lowest crime rates.

This aerial view shows the rescue and recovery scene after a fire at an animation company building killed some two dozen people in Kyoto on 18 July 2019. Picture: AFP

KYOTO, Japan – Many victims of an arson attack on an animation studio in the western Japanese city of Kyoto were young with bright futures, some joining only in April, the company president said on Saturday, as the death told climbed to 34.

Thursday’s attack on Kyoto Animation, famous in Japan and overseas for its series and movies, was the worst mass killing in two decades in a country with some of the world’s lowest crime rates.

Company president Hideaki Hatta said many of the victims were young women.

“Some of them joined us just in April. And on the eighth of July, I gave them a small, but their first, bonus,” he said.

“People who had a promising future lost their lives. I don’t know what to say. Rather than feeling anger, I just don’t have words,” Hatta said.

Fifteen of the victims were in their 20s and 11 were in their 30s, public broadcaster NHK said. Six were in their 40s and one was at least 60. The age of the latest victim, a man who died in hospital, was not known. The names of the victims have not been disclosed.

The studio had about 160 employees with an average age of 33, according to its website.

Police have confirmed the identity of the suspect as Shinji Aoba, but have declined to comment further.

Aoba had been convicted of robbery and carried out the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarized, NHK and other media have said.

But Hatta said he had no idea about any plagiarism claim, adding he had not seen any correspondence from the suspect.

Police have not arrested Aoba, as he is being treated for heavy burns, NHK said, although police have taken the unusual step of releasing his name.

Two days after the fire, animation fans gathered near the burned out studio to add to a growing pile of flowers, drinks and other offerings.

Bing Xie, 25, a Chinese student at Kyoto University, said she could not forgive the arsonist.

“The criminal who does this seems to have been mentally disturbed, but I can’t forgive him. The young people at Kyoto Animation were beautiful and warm and it is hard to accept they are gone.”

Police guarded the site as investigators, some on the roof near where many died in a connecting stairwell, examined the blackened building. The smell of burning lingered over the quiet suburban neighbourhood.

Hatta said the building needed to be torn down because it was so badly damaged.

Tributes to the victims lit up social media, with world leaders and Apple Inc’s chief executive offering condolences. The hashtag #PrayforKyoAni, as the studio is known among fans, has become popular.

Kyoto Animation, in a quiet suburb about 20 minutes by train from the centre of Kyoto, produces popular “anime” series such as the “Sound! Euphonium”. It is also known for “Violet Evergarden”, which has been shown on Netflix.

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