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Kyoto Animation Arsonist Sentenced to Death in Japan

A Japanese court on Thursday announced the death sentence for Aoba Shinji, the man who burned down the Kyoto Anime studio in 2019 and killed 36 people.

There was little doubt that Aoba, who himself was badly burned in the blaze, was the perpetrator and set the fire using gasoline.

Shortly after the attack, at a press conference, the Kyoto police said that Aoba had unspecified mental health issues. Aoba pleaded not guilty at trial and his defense lawyers argued that he was mentally unfit and could not be held criminally responsible.

The Kyoto District Court, however, said it found that Aoba could determine right and wrong at the time of the incident. His capacity for responsibility was “determined to have been neither insane nor mentally incompetent at the time of the crime,” public broadcaster NHK reported.

After ruling that Aoba was mentally capable of facing punishment for the crimes, the court took a recess and delivered the verdict on Thursday afternoon.

The court’s presiding Judge Masuda Keisuke said that Aoba had not spared other people’s lives and called Aoba’s crime “truly atrocious and inhumane.”

“The horror and pain of the victims who died in Studio 1, which turned into a hell in an instant, or who died afterward, is beyond description,” the judge said.

Japan is one of the few developed countries to retain and use capital punishment.

Judge Masuda said Aoba had wanted to be a novelist but was unsuccessful and so had sought revenge. Aoba had submitted a story to Kyoto Animation, which is a publisher of light novels as well as being a producer of animation series, in a competition and later claimed that the company had plagiarized his work.

Japanese media, however, have also reported that the unemployed and financially struggling Aoba had plotted a separate attack on a train station north of Tokyo a month before burning down the animation studio.

“The attack instantly turned the studio into hell and took the precious lives of 36 people, caused them indescribable pain,” the judge said.

The company, known by fans as “KyoAni,” has produced numerous series and features led by schoolgirl characters, including “K-On!,” “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya,” “Tamako Market” and “Sound! Euphonium.” In 2016, it adapted the “Violet Evergarden” manga into an animated series, which was picked up by Netflix in 2018. Two “Violet Evergarden” feature films were released in 2020 and 2021.

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