Japan’s anime powerhouse Kyoto Animation Studio, known for its compassionate storytelling and respectful treatment of its animators, was attacked by an arsonist on Thursday, with a fire breaking out at the company’s first studio building in Fushimi-ku, killing at least 33 workers and injuring more than 30 more.
The country was rocked by the shocking terrorist attack, as the death toll was the highest for an arson incident since 1989. Around 70 people were working when the fire broke out in the morning, which quickly spread throughout the three stories; a 41-year-old suspect was taken into custody and no motive was ascertained.
Kyoto Animation (KyoAni) was founded in 1981 by the husband-and-wife team of Hideaki and Yoko Hatta, who serve as president and vice president, respectively. KyoAni, which has a second studio facility located in Uji city, is acclaimed for its focus on anime TV series and movies about pre-teen and teen schoolgirl empowerment. KyoAni has more than 21 series to its credit (some of which have been licensed to Netflix), including the hit show, “Sound! Euphonium” (2015), about a high school music club.
However, the studio had a breakout hit with the feature release of “A Silent Voice” (2016), directed by Naoko Yamada, about a shy, hearing-impaired girl who is bullied and forced to relocate to another school. This creates such a stir that her bully becomes an outcast and is forced to confront his hate and cruelty. “A Silent Voice” earned $33 million worldwide, and, after screening in competition at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, was picked up by Netflix in 2017.
Starting in 2009, KyoAni launched the annual Kyoto Animation Award, singling out original novels and manga, publishing them into the imprint KA Esuma Bunko, and producing several of the winners as anime projects. The most prestigious grand prize winner, “Violet Evergarden,” about ghostwriters called Auto Memory Dolls, was adapted into an anime series and licensed by Netflix in 2018. It has been turned into a feature and set to release in Japan on January 10, 2020.
But what sets KyoAni apart from its anime peers is its progressive employee relations. Its animators, in fact, are salaried rather than freelancers paid per frame, ensuring quality over quantity. “Kyoto Animation has produced an interesting and diverse body of work,” said animation historian Charles Solomon. “‘K-On, Sound, ‘Euphonium,’ and ‘Liz and the Bluebird’ focused on the trials and friendships among young women brought together by their love of music….My personal favorites…are the sensitive but honest depiction of bullying in the feature, ‘A Silent Voice,’ and the take-no-prisoners insanity of ‘Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu.'”
This terror attack is both unimaginable and unconscionable. However, a GoFundMe campaign has been launched by Houston-based Sentai Filmworks, which has close ties to Kyoto Animation. They have already raised more than $1.5 million for the victims and their families.