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Japanese man sentenced to death for 2019 arson attack at anime studio that killed 36

Shinji Aoba (45) broke into Kyoto Animation’s building, doused the entrance area with petrol and set it alight

A court in Japan has sentenced to death a man convicted of murdering 36 people in an arson attack on an animation studio in 2019.

The attack on Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, sent shock waves through Japan, where violent crime is rare, and stunned fans of the studio’s output around the world.

Shinji Aoba (45) broke into the firm’s building in Kyoto, doused the entrance area with petrol and set it alight. He then shouted “drop dead”, according to accounts by survivors of Japan’s deadliest crime in decades. Many of the victims were young people.

The attack also injured 32 others and left Aoba with serious burns that required almost a year of treatment.


He faced five charges, including murder, attempted murder and arson. His lawyers had entered a plea of not guilty, contending that their client had been suffering a mental disorder at the time of the crime that prevented him from distinguishing between good and bad.

But in his ruling on Thursday, the judge ruled that Aoba was “neither insane nor suffering diminished mental capacity at the time of the crime”, the public broadcaster NHK said.

Inside the courtroom, whose public gallery was packed with the families of the victims, one person broke down in tears as the judge delivered his ruling, NHK added.

Later the court handed down the death sentence, local media reported.

Aoba entered court in a wheelchair pushed by a prison officer, the scars from the burns he sustained in the fire visible on his face and neck, the Kyodo news agency said. He declined the opportunity to speak before he was sentenced, it added.

Japan, one of few developed countries to retain the death penalty, usually reserves the punishment for people convicted of multiple murders.

Opinion polls show a majority of Japanese support capital punishment, while the European Union and human rights groups have called for its abolition.

Condemned inmates typically spend years on death row and are informed of their execution just hours before it is carried out, according to campaigners.

Japan carried out its last execution, by hanging, in 2022. As of December, 107 people were on death row.

Media have reported that Aoba held a grudge against the studio, known for the series Violet Evergarden and other popular works, believing that it had plagiarised his novel, an allegation that KyoAni has denied.

Several victims of the fire were found on a spiral stairwell leading to the roof of the KyoAni building, suggesting they were overcome as they tried to escape. Survivors have spoken of their desperate struggle to flee.

Aoba suffered burns on 90 per cent of his body and underwent 12 operations, including one to restore his speech. He did not regain consciousness until several weeks after the incident.

At the first hearing in his trial last September, he told the court that he had not expected the fire to kill so many people. “Now I think I went too far,” he said.

Founded in 1981 by a married couple, KyoAni became a household name among anime fans thanks to popular TV series such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and K-ON! – Guardian