Flowers are seen near the site of an arson attack in Kyoto, Japan, July 19, 2019. Industry insiders from Japan's animation scene along with countless numbers of fans expressed utter shock and bemusement Friday after the tragic events that transpired a day earlier at a studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in western Japan. (Xinhua/Du Xiaoyi)
TOKYO, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Industry insiders from Japan's animation scene along with countless numbers of fans expressed utter shock and bemusement Friday after the tragic events that transpired a day earlier at a studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in western Japan.
KyoAni, as its known affectionately not just in Japan but worldwide, saw its studio go up in flames as the result of a suspected arson attack, which claimed the lives of 33 talented individuals and left a deep scar on the animation industry that will take years to heal.
"It's an absolute tragedy, I just can't begin to fathom what happened," said a local resident in his 40s as he laid flowers at a makeshift memorial site near the studio in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward.
"This tragedy is a monumental loss to the neighborhood, the families of all the individuals who died and the entire animation industry," he added mournfully.
A female student in her early 20s said while fighting back tears that "in the blink of an eye, priceless pieces of work, but more importantly priceless, talented individuals" had, quite literally, gone up in smoke.
"This is one of the saddest days in my life," she said, adding that KyoAni and works they had released had deeply touched her in the past and she was dumbfounded by what had happened.
According to local police reports, at around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, a 41-year-old man from Saitama Prefecture near Tokyo entered the studio building with two 20-liter cans of gasoline that he had bought from a nearby gas station.
He is then alleged to have shouted "Die!" while dousing the building and possibly its occupants in the vicinity in the flammable liquid, before igniting it.
Neighbors said they heard numerous loud explosions and saw black smoke billowing from the three-story building.
At the time of the alleged attack, there were believed to have been around 70 people inside the building, some of whom were animators, others who were studying to become artists in the industry, among other professionals.
Firefighters and police said that most of the 33 people killed in the blaze were found on a stairway that led to the building's roof.
They said that 19 victims were found collapsed on the stairs connecting the third floor to the rooftop. The door to the flat rooftop, the only lifeline and escape route for the victims, was closed when the firefighters arrived, they said.
On the second floor, 11 others were found dead, and two more lives were lost on the first floor and one on the stairs between the second and third floors.
Firefighters on the scene recounted heinous images of bodies being piled up on stairwells as the victims presumably tried to flee from the blaze to the roof top, only to be overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning.
More than 30 people were also injured in the inferno, which firefighters finally extinguished at 6:20 a.m. on Friday morning. The fire, which saw 30 fire engines deployed, was one of the worst in decades in Japan.
The apparent motive behind the alleged arson attack on the studio, at which the average age of the employees is just 33-years-old, may have been down to a personal grudge.
The suspected arsonist, identified by the police as 41-year-old Shinji Aoba, told investigators he torched the studio as he believed they had plagiarized his ideas.
He reportedly said that the studio "stole a novel" after he was apprehended shortly after the fire was started not far from the burning building.
Aoba, currently being treated for burns in hospital, will be interrogated by police once he is in a fit condition, investigators said.
The suspect's connection to the studio has yet to be made clear and he is believed to have traveled to Kyoto by train to carry out the attack and was spotted in the vicinity of the studio in the days before by eyewitnesses, according to local media accounts.
A number of knives, knife-like objects and a hammer were also found at the scene, although investigators have yet to determine if they belong to the suspect who was formerly indicted in 2012 for a convenience store robbery and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
The suspect, according to sources with knowledge of the matter, has also been treated for mental health issues and has been living on welfare.
Kyoto prefectural police chief Hideto Ueda, who also offered flowers at the memorial site on Friday, described the incident as an "unprecedented, unforgivable crime," and vowed to get to the bottom of the case.
As the nation mourns the loss of so many talented lives, it has also rallied around the studio, known for producing popular TV animation series including "K-On!" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu), with industry heavyweights offering support and encouragement.
"I would like to see new works from KyoAni, and we, as workers in the same industry, hope to continue making anime without flinching. I believe we ought to," said animation film director Makoto Shinkai.
"Animators desire to draw as many good pictures as they can and entertain audiences as much as possible. We are all companions in the same boat," Shinkai said in Tokyo, at the premier of his new animated feature called: "Tenki no Ko: Weathering With You."