KYOTO: At least 30 people have died and dozens more injured after a fire on Thursday (Jul 18) gutted the building of one of Japan’s most well-regarded studios.
Police said the blaze appeared to have been started deliberately and there were fears the death toll might rise.
The blaze prompted an outpouring of support from those in Japan's anime industry, one of the country's best known cultural exports.
"No, I don't know what I should be thinking now," tweeted Yutaka Yamamoto, an animation director who once worked at Kyoto Animation.
"Why, why, why?"
Tokyo-based film commentator Yuichi Maeda said the studio had an outsized impact on the industry.
"It's one of the best and largest animation firms in Japan, and with that loss of life, many of the best hands at animation in the nation are likely to be dead," Maeda said, his voice shaking.
"It's too painful to contemplate. It has a huge presence in animation here. To have this many people die at once will be a huge blow to the Japanese animation industry."
A UNIQUE STUDIO
Kyoto Animation, also known as KyoAni, is unlike many of Japan’s other animation studios. Founded in 1981 by anime producers Yoko and Hideaki Hatta, its headquarters and studios are located outside the capital.
One of its most famous productions is the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which was initially released as a novel in 2003. KyoAni created 14 episodes in 2006, released over four DVDs between May and November 2007 and a complete box set was released in 2008.
The studio is also well-known among fans for developing a certain distinctive art style, which was used for a time across several different works.
The style was first popularised in its anime adaption of the K-On! manga. Its success sparked a trend of creating shows which centred around the daily lives of its main characters.
While Studio Ghibli is arguably the most famous Japanese animation studio, Kyoto Animation has recently become one of the top-grossing studios after its success with popular series such as Sound! Euphonium and Free!
A Sound! Euphonium film was released in Japan earlier this year, while its Free! Road to the World - The Dream movie is due for release this month.
Meanwhile, KyoAni's series adaptation of the Tsurune novel, written by author Kotoko Ayano, completed airing on broadcaster NHK in January this year.
Many of its anime and films often carry serious themes around social anxiety, depression and other deeper issues.
Kyoto Animation’s first standalone film, A Silent Voice, was released in 2016 and became the 10th highest-grossing Japanese film of the year in the country.
Featuring a hearing-impaired girl and her former bully struggling with their pasts, the film drew widespread acclaim not just for its high-quality artwork and distinctive style, but also the way it covered themes such as bullying, suicide, and depression among teenagers.
In 2017, the film was given a limited release in the US. The Verge’s Michael Moore wrote: “A Silent Voice clearly shows that if KyoAni keeps on its present track, it has the potential to be spoken of in the same way we talk about Studio Ghibli - as a source of outstanding work, telling stories in ways no one else can tell them.”
It was also reported that most of Kyoto Animations staff are salaried employees, unlike much of the Japanese animation industry, which uses mostly freelancers.
That is well reflected in its corporate philosophy. As published on their website, the studio said its principles were to do their best, produce relevant works and to keep their corporation “a humanitarian one”.
“We value people. Promoting the growth of people is equal to creating the brightness of works. We sincerely keep moving forward to be an entertainment corporation which is based on animation.”
Since news of the fire first broke, thousands of people have rushed to help the studio.
Sentai Filmworks, which distributes KyoAni's works in North America, started a GoFundMe page, which has drawn more than 3,700 donors and raised more than S$125,000 in just three hours.