Kyoto Animation: why the studio is so important for the anime industry

Chronicle of the tragedy, key works and the contribution of KyoAni to Japanese animation.


Attention: In the first part of the material details of the tragedy are told. If you do not want to read them, we recommend moving on to the second part .

July 18, 2019 will forever remain a black day for anime fans around the world. An unknown man intentionally set fire to one of the main buildings of Kyoto Animation. In a monstrous fire, 35 people died, several dozen more employees were injured, and the entire studio archive was completely burned.

Now online there are unconfirmed rumors about what happened, so we collected all the truthful information about the tragedy, remembered the achievements of the animation studio and its invaluable contribution to the industry.


Kyoto, Fushimi district, 10 am Japanese time (four in the morning in Moscow). Aoba Shinji, 41, drove a truck to the Kyoto Animation Studio building. He had 40 liters of gasoline and knives with him. He bought gas for half an hour before setting fire to a local gas station. According to the seller, the man bought 40 liters of fuel for his electric generator.

At that time, there were 70 employees in the building, and the working day began. In Kyoto Prefecture, the studio owns three buildings: the administrative building in Uji, the first studio in Fushimi (where the tragedy occurred) and the second studio in Uji, which also has an adjoining Kyoto Animation official goods store. The first studio has directors, storyboards and novice animators. There is also a permanent archive of old works and the main server.

Kyoto Animation Studio 1

At half-past ten in the morning, a man burst into the Kyoto Animation building. With a cry of “Die,” he quickly spilled flammable liquid all over the ground floor. The arsonist clearly planned everything and poured most of the fuel at the exit, so that the studio staff could not get out of it. At this time, locals heard a loud pop.

According to the newspapers Mainichi and Kyoto, Aoba Shinji did not calculate with fuel and caught fire on his own. In a panic, he ran out, his legs shrouded in fire. A resident of the nearest house told police that she saw him on the road. His hair was burning, he had severe burns to his legs, and his hands peeled off. Soon the police arrived and detained and interrogated the arsonist. He was badly injured, but fully admitted his deed.

According to the Kyoto newspaper , local residents saw the moment of detention and heard the arsonist shouting “plagiarists must die” and “they stole my romance”. Allegedly, Kyoto Animation stole his idea , which served as the main motive for arson. However, according to the director of the studio, the offender did not offer any materials for publication; In serious condition (burn of the lungs and limbs), the suspect was sent to the hospital and is now under police control.

The walls of the first floor of the studio were upholstered with wood, so the coating caught fire almost instantly, after which the fire spread to the shelves with books and documents. The ground floor, completely covered by fire, did not allow the studio employees who worked on the second and third floors to be evacuated. The fire safety system did not work or did not exist at all. Also, nothing is known about the presence or absence of a fire exit.

If you study documentaries about the creation of anime, you will notice that in Japanese animation studios it is often very crowded and sometimes there is a real mess. The entire space is divided into office honeycombs with narrow walkways that are littered with cardboard boxes with storyboards and other flammable material. It is not easy to evacuate from such a maze, especially when everything is enveloped in fire.

The studio had a small spiral staircase, so carbon monoxide quickly spread to all floors. The spread of smoke was also facilitated by the fact that there were no partitions on the floors. Only walls, furniture and equipment important for work.

Old Studio Work Video 1

In less than an hour, all the interior of the studio was enveloped in fire, and by two o’clock in the afternoon the building had almost completely burned out, although firefighters still did not stop fighting the fire. Many employees tried to escape to the roof, but suffocated from carbon monoxide. Firefighters found 19 bodies on the third floor and on the stairs that led to the roof.

At the time of writing, it is known that out of almost 70 people, 35 studio employees died (of which 20 were women). The names of the victims have not yet been disclosed, and some bodies are still not recognized. Another 34 people are in the hospital with injuries and burns of varying severity. The fire took away the entire old studio archive and severely damaged the main server.

Hideaki Hatta , director of the studio, said that in recent years, there have been several death threats to Kyoto Animation’s mailing addresses. Representatives of the studio contacted the police, but the sender of these letters was never found.

The Hutta also said that the tragedy might not have happened, since you can get into the studio only with the help of a special pass. However, on July 18, the security system was completely disabled. A business meeting was supposed to take place at the studio that day and admission was free. Perhaps the arsonist somehow found out about this.

According to the latest information from DoCoMo News, the man already had a criminal past: in 2012, he robbed a store in Ibaraki Prefecture. According to the neighbors, he was mentally ill, and he received a lot of complaints from the police because of the loud noise (in his small apartment there was a professional BOSE AWCS-1 music system) and screams that rang out almost daily from his apartment.

If the arsonist’s guilt is finally proved, he will survive the burns and be considered sane, then he faces the death penalty . But they execute him only 10 years after the sentence comes into force: all this time he will be in solitary confinement. Under the terms of the Japanese justice system, during this period new circumstances of the crime or facts may appear that will justify the convict.

Be that as it may, the consequences of the fire are terrible. The staff of the studio employed about 150 employees (in two studios and a central office), 70 of which were injured or died in the incident. At the burnt studio, they were engaged in the main animation work, so the tragedy will undoubtedly affect future projects. So far, no plans to cancel upcoming releases, but the planned anime event on Free! already canceled .

The full list of victims will be announced after the funeral. So far, relatives and policein Kyoto are aware of the deaths:

  • Director Yasuhiro Takemoto (Amagi Brilliant Park, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Hyoka, Lucky Star, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid)
  • Animator and character designer Futoshi Nishiya (Nichijyo, Free !, Koe no Katachi, Hyouka)
  • Color Designer Naomi Ishida (Amagi Brilliant Park, Hyouka, Liz and the Blue Bird, A Silent Voice, Haruhi Suzumiya)
  • Animator Junichi Uda (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Koe no Katachi, Hibike! Euphonium, Tamako Market, Hyouka, Free!) 
  • Art Directors Mikiko Watanabe (Amagi Brilliant Park, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon, Kyoukai no Kanata, Musaigen no Phantom World, Violet Evergarden)
  • Novice animators Yuki Okumara and Yuki Kasama. Came to the studio in 2019. Probably worked on the latest series and films of the studio.
  • Director and animator Yoshiji Kagami (franchise Munto, Hibike! Euphonium, Hotaru no Haka, Violet Evergarden, Choujin Locke). Veteran of the anime industry, worked in it since the beginning of the 80s.
  • Animator Ami Chickens (Free, Liz to Aoi Tori, Koe no Katachi)
  • Animator Satie Tsuda (Lucky ☆ Star, Clannad, Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maidragon). Worked in the industry since the mid 90s.
  • Manager Keiske Yokota. He led the production of many studio works.

On July 20, it also became known that a memorial park is planned to be erected on the site of the burned down building .

The material will be updated as news arrives.

Milestones Kyoto Animation

The tragedy caused a tremendous response among Japanese animators and anime fans around the world. Many of the studio’s work has seriously affected the industry of the past 15 years. The contribution of Kyoto Animation is invaluable, so it is worth recalling its significant work.

The studio gained star status decades after its founding. In 1981, the Hutt family of animators opened a small private studio in Uji (Kyoto Prefecture). As a logo, they took a modified kanji (hieroglyph) of the prefecture. Among the first employees were local housewives who wanted to keep themselves busy until their husbands came home from work.

For almost two decades, Kyoto Animation was a small studio (in the early 90s there were about 30 people on the team), which outsourced animation for larger companies. In KyoAni, they drew intermediate animations for the famous Kimagure Orange Road series, helped with the background in Neon Genesis Evangelion and screensavers for baseball simulators from Konami, and participated in the creation of films by Ghibli and Akira Katsuhiro Otomo.

Mentioning the studio in the credits of Witch’s Delivery Service, Hayao Miyazaki

In the 90s, the studio released two of its independent works – the children’s short anime Shiawasette Nani (a children’s anime about the friendship of a boy and an angel) and the Noroi no Onepiece horror (the story of the damned dress). Both works passed the mass audience, and Noroi no Onepiece is still considered lost. No luck with the fantasy anime Munto , which did not receive wide recognition and was criticized by the audience for a slurred plot.

Shiawasette Nani survived and was translated into English

Kyoto Animation received its first resounding success in the field of adaptations of novels and visual short stories. The real debut was the second season of Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu – a comedy mech franchise with elements of a techno thriller that is dedicated to the everyday life of the brave soldier Sagara Sosuke and his comrades.

Unlike the first season (it was shot by Gonzo studio), the plot of Fumoffu is focused on the lives of ordinary Japanese schoolchildren and their everyday problems, and not on world conspiracies. Fumoffu’s success was so great that the studios were entrusted with filming the third season.

Full Metal Panic Fumoffu screensavers

But perhaps the first time they started talking about Kyoto Animation around the world after adapting three visual novels from Key – Air , Kanon and Clannad . These are piercing and very moving stories about love, friendship, motherhood and inevitable death. The release of these adaptations led to a boom in romantic melodramas in Japan. On the net you can often see the opinion that the adaptations of the Kyoto Animation Key trilogy are the best melodramas in anime history.

Magic Opening Clannad: After Story

In 2006, Kyoto Animation released the first film adaptation of a series of short stories by writer Nagaru Tanigawa about the everyday life of an extravagant schoolgirl Haruhi Suzumiya. The anime “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” instantly gained enormous popularity thanks to charismatic characters and a non-standard plot presentation (the chronological sequence of the episodes was intentionally mixed up).

After showing the first episode, the series became a kind of Internet meme. Hundreds of parody videos, cosplay dances from fans and covers of anime compositions were released on YouTube weekly. Even the fictitious religion of “Haruhism” appeared, whose adherents still idolize Haruhi Suzumiya. The success of “Suzumiya” was so great that in the anime industry there was an interest in the adaptations of ranobe (short novels with anime illustrations).

Famous Hare Hare Yukai dance from the series ending

The popularity of the franchise was subsequently cemented by the second season (fans are still arguing about the importance or failure of the “Endless Eight”) and the excellent feature film “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya . ” A magical story and one of the most impressive full-length anime films in history, which is better to watch after meeting the main series, otherwise much will be incomprehensible.

Trailer of Haruhi Suzumiya’s Disappearances

In the future, Kyoto Animation successfully proved herself in the field of comedies. The Lucky Star series was one of the first parody animes that made fun of iconic TV shows, video games, Western films, and even KyoAni’s past works.

The pleasure of viewing Lucky Star depends entirely on the amount of “baggage” viewed. The better you understand old video games and anime series, the more you will understand the jokes

Opening Lucky Star

The situation with the TV series Nichijou (“Everyday”) is a little more complicated . It will be difficult for many Western viewers to understand because of the specific absurd Japanese humor, usually tied to cultural motives or a complex Japanese pun. In general, this is something like the “Japanese” Monty Python, in which humor is not always clear or explainable (or does not require explanation), but it is incredibly difficult to break away from what is happening.

One of the famous Nichijou sketches

Over the past 10 years, KyoAni has chosen two areas of work that it adheres to today. The former belong to the category of the so-called “moe-anime” – anime about cute girls who do cute things. The moe phenomenon originated in the 80s, but he secured his final status at the end of the 2000s.

It all started with the adaptation of the K-On manga , after which a crazy round of moe boom in Japan started. In K-On! cute schoolgirls eat cakes, drink tea and honestly try to play in the school group (although most of the time they do all sorts of stupid things). Nevertheless, the series turned out to be sweet and sincere, and the popularity and informational noise around it is quite comparable with the success of Suzumiya.


The second type of work is aimed exclusively at a female audience. Half of the state of Kyoto Animation is made up of women, so there is nothing surprising in the release of such an anime. The studio almost every year releases the continuation of the franchise Free! about handsome swimmers, and in 2019, the broadcast of the Tsurune series began about attractive schoolchildren from the kyudo club (the art of archery).

Opening Free

If we talk about a general assessment of the work of the studio in recent years, then the opinion of the anime community is divided. Anime fans either adore the moe phenomenon or strongly criticize it.

Following the acclaimed K-On! the series were released: Tamako Market (“Tamako Shop”), Kyoukai no Kanata (“Beyond the Boundary”), Chuunibyou demo koi ga Shitai (“Eccentricities of love are not a hindrance!”), Amagi Brilliant Park (“Amagi’s magnificent park”) and Musaigen no Phantom World (“Myriad colors of the phantom world”).

These works equally mix light fiction, comedy and romance, but at the same time they have one thing in common – they are criticized for being secondary. It is best to perceive them as light and beautiful moe comedies that erode from the head after the first viewing.

Opening Chuunibyou demo koi ga Shitai

In general, this is also not surprising, because Kyoto Animation has long been entrenched with the status of a studio that produces both strong and not always successful experimental works. This is partly due to the fact that over such projects the backbone of young animators is working under the guidance of studio veterans.

About modern works by Kyoto Animation, you can also hear the opinion that all the series are beautifully drawn, but they have little meaning and plot, but a lot of drama. In the detective series Hyouka , detective, comedy, drama and moe elements are mixed in equal proportions.

Opening Hyouka

Some viewers consider it an empty series, while others call it a masterpiece and a breakthrough in the quality of directing and animation on TV. Identical criticism and praise can be heard at Violet Evergarden , Hibike! Euphonium (“Play! Euphonium”)and its many sequels. And most of the studio’s works that came out in the last 10 years have such polar feedback.

Hibike screensaver! 

Standing apart is a successful comedy about the cute dragon Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon (“Dragon Maid Kobayashi the Dragon Maid”) and the melodrama Koe no Katachi (“Voice Shape”) , which stands out from the rest of the studio.

“Kobayashi” lacks the atypical humor and reflections on the topic of self-identification, which is atypical for the studio. In The Voice Form, the creators fit a multi-volume manga into a two-hour film. Compared with the original source, it turned out a little crumpled, but in general it is an exemplary and very touching melodrama that will appeal to a wide range of viewers.

Trailer Koe no Katachi

Despite criticism from Western audiences, the studio has no problems with financial performance and a reputation in the homeland. Only Nichijou turned out to be unprofitable, which was perceived as a niche title and had low sales on Blu-Ray. At the same time, the series still went a little plus and recouped the cost of production.

The rest – that is not an anime, is almost always a hit. So criticized in the western anime community K-ON! broke records for the sale of merchandise in Japan. In just a few years, fans of the series bought related products with K-ON! worth 15 billion yen.

So any anime from Kyoto Animation in the new season is an automatic must see for many fans of Japanese animation. Regardless of the criticism of past works, the degree of confidence in the studio still remains very high.

Contribution to the industry and working conditions

Over the past 10 years, Kyoto Animation has earned a reputation as an innovator, the ideas that competitors adopt. Firstly, the studio animators have a fixed salary, regular payments and promotions. So they are not worried about low wages and unfair conditions, from which a significant part of the animation industry suffers . Kyoto Animation is often called the “dream job” – unlike other studios that pay animators only for the number of frames drawn.

In the same Madhouse or Sunrise studios, the artist receives about 400 yen (235 rubles) per hour for two drawn illustrations. The more he drew, the more he got, although in practice, such a practice is only exhausting. An unscrupulous animator will draw more, but worse, while his earnings are unlikely to exceed 150-200 thousand yen per month.

Morning exercises in the former Studio 1

Secondly, Kyoto Animation is the only Japanese animation studio in which half of the employees are women. They work on character design, key animation, and even directing. Hiroka Utsumi and Naoko Yamada are some of the best young directors in the modern anime industry. An amazing phenomenon for patriarchal Japan as a whole.

The main philosophy of the studio: constant recruiting and a friendly family atmosphere. Kyoto Animation’s values ​​are based on mutual assistance and training. The logic is simple: it is better to bring up a new generation of animators and develop their talents yourself than to hire people from the outside or to lure from competitors.

Kyoto Animation has its own school for young animators, whose students subsequently end up on staff. And the main backbone of the studio consists mainly of young people. The average age of most employees varies from 21 to 28 years. In 2017, the same school of animators was opened by PA Works Studio – the idea was clearly spied on by a competitor.

The family atmosphere has been repeatedly emphasized in official advertisements on TV. The studio workers in it were represented by a close-knit company of children who themselves weed the ground and plant flowers in it.

Kyoto Animation also has a great ad for its store.

The path that the studio has made is impressive. From a simple contractor in the late 80s to adaptation masters and an independent company that finances the work of young writers. The studio now has its own KyoAni Awards for aspiring writers and the imprint KA Esuma Bunko.

Kyoto Animation partially departed from the principles of the traditional anime studio, which is engaged in the adaptation of manga and ranobe from third-party publishers. It is better to open your own publishing house, attract young writers to it, organize a competition and remove original animated works based on the most promising novels.

Based on the winning novel of 20 Seiki Denki Mokuroku, the studio will shoot an anime series

And it’s a very profitable business model that goes against industry standards, where the copyright holder took most of the profits from the sale of disks and related products. And that is why Kyoto Animation will never remove the sequel to Haruhi Suzumiya. Then, most of the profits went to publisher Kadokawa Shoten, distributor of Kadokawa Pictures and record label Lantis.

The most important thing is that the studio puts quality above quantity. No more than three works are published per year (usually a full-length film and two series). Other animation studios release up to 10 works a year and outsource some of them to Vietnam and South Korea. The quality of the animation from this is noticeably lame, which can not be said about the work of KyoAni.

Another philosophy of the studio: each next work should be something better than the previous one. You can argue for a long time about the quality of the stories, but only ComixWave Makoto Shinkai can compete with the level of animation from KyoAni.

In all the studio’s works, the emphasis is on realism and phenomenal meticulousness in terms of direction, work with color and light. Great attention is paid to the movements of the characters and small details that give the picture depth, and the characters liveliness. The overall quality of the animations in the series is comparable to full-length animated films.

Cutting animation of characters from various studio works

The drawing looks very realistic also because the basis for many works has become real places in Japan. Kyoto Animation’s work spawned the anime tourism movement. Tens of thousands of anime fans visit locations every year their favorite characters have visited.

The consequences of the tragedy and the help of the studio

The main loss is, of course, talented animators. The building can be rebuilt, but no one will return people. The victims of burns will undergo rehabilitation and will not soon return to their work. The scale of the tragedy is still difficult to assess, but it will definitely affect the entire anime industry.

Responsibility for the deed will be borne not only by the arsonist, but most likely by the company responsible for fire safety and building design. Why couldn’t people run out through the back door? Was he at all? Why was the path to the roof blocked? The commission of inquiry will understand all this.

Definitely will be reviewed security measures in other anime studios. Perhaps some companies will completely remodel their work premises or move to a new place. The security system will be strengthened and a strict passage by appointment will be introduced for those who do not work in the studio.

Another loss is computers and the studio archive. This is a huge amount of damage in money. Almost all the achievements over the past 20 years are almost completely lost. If Kyoto Animation has no digitized copies of its works (in original quality), then it will be difficult (if at all possible) to republish old releases in the same 4K. In Japan, the old anime in the Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD format has been reprinted for many years.

Now anyone can help the studio in three ways:

  • First: a voluntary donation at the GoFundMe crowdfunding site. Fundraising was launched by Sentai Filmworks, a Kyoto Animation distributor in the United States. At the moment, more than a million dollars have already been raised.
  • Second: buying wallpaper for your desktop on the official website of the studio. No intermediaries, the money goes directly Kyoto Animation. This method is described in detail on Twitter “Otaku.”
  • Third: support the studio with a kind word or picture. The collection of letters was arranged by the American anime distributor Crunchyroll.
dishwasher 1910

The arson of Kyoto Animation is a terrible tragedy, the consequences of which in the anime industry will be felt for years to come. Not just the building and archives were lost – 35 human lives were lost. In Japan, this happens extremely rarely, but in the animation industry for the first time – and I want to believe that for the last time.


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