Defendant admits to setting Kyoto Animation fire

36 people died and 32 people were seriously injured in a case of arson and murder in Kyoto City in 2019. After more than four years, the trial began on Tuesday.

More than 500 people waited in line for a chance to get one of 35 gallery seats on September 5, 2023 to watch the first trial of the arson attack at Kyoto Animation.

The trial opened at the Kyoto District Court on the morning of September 5. The 45-year-old suspect, Aoba Shinji, appeared at the court in a wheelchair and wearing a face mask. Aoba faces multiple charges, including murder and arson.

The courtroom on the morning of the first day of the trial, just before proceedings begin.

In the first hearing, the presiding judge asked the suspect his name and occupation. Aoba answered in a quiet voice.

The defendant confirmed the facts laid out in the indictment, saying there is no doubt he did it. He said that, at the time, he had no choice but to do it. Aoba said that he didn't expect so many people to die.

Meanwhile, the defendant's lawyer entered a plea of not guilty, saying he was not competent to take responsibility for his actions. They said the defendant had a mental disorder and was not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong.

Prosecutors argued the defendant is fully capable of taking responsibility. They said Aoba wanted to become a novelist after being impressed by the studio's animation, and submitted a novel that he wrote. After his novel was rejected by Kyoto Animation, he started to have delusions that the studio had stolen his ideas. They added that Aoba's feelings of apathy and anger increased and that, a month before the incident, he planned to go on a random killing spree in Omiya station in Saitama Prefecture. Prosecutors said Aoba began to believe the studio was the reason why his life wasn't going well, and decided to take revenge based on a misdirected grudge.

The defense then said Aoba believed he had no choice but to carry out the incident, and that it was a counterattack against someone on the dark side who was trifling with his life.

Artist's sketch of the suspect

The day of the attack

On July 18, 2019, black smoke billowed out of the studio belonging to the company Kyoto Animation. It took only about a minute for smoke to fill the three-story building where 70 employees were working. Many suffocated in the smoke before they could escape, and some jumped out of the windows. A total of 36 men and women in their 20s to 60s died.

Aoba was apprehended on a street about 100 meters from the scene. Sources say he entered the Kyoto Animation building from the front entrance, threw gasoline on the first floor and lit a fire with a lighter.

Police say he bought gasoline cans and a trolley at a hardware store in the city day before, and camped out in a park overnight near the animation company until morning.

Aoba himself suffered heavy burns on his entire body and was hospitalized. His condition remained unstable, but after receiving skin transplant surgery he recovered enough to talk.

Aoba Shinji is transferred to a police station on a stretcher on May 27, 2020.

After the incident, more than 10 months passed before he was arrested on suspicion of murder and arson. After a psychiatric examination, Aoba was charged with arson and murder in December.

Suspect complained about plagiarism

The suspect told investigators he set fire to the animation studio because it plagiarized a novel he had written. The studio says he had entered a writing competition but was eliminated in the screening stage. The company says there are no similarities between Aoba's work and any of its releases.

Defendant's background

Aoba Shinji was born in Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo, in 1978.

Investigators say Aoba is a high school graduate, who attended evening school. They also say he worked part-time at the Saitama prefectural government for three years until 1998.

Photo of Aoba Shinji in junior high school

His father died when he was 21 years old. After that he lost contact with his siblings and it is believed he lived alone.

Aoba went from job to job, and was later involved in a robbery. He was admitted to a rehabilitation facility for offenders in Saitama City in 2016, when he was 38. Aoba was in the facility for six months. After that he is believed to have lived alone in an apartment in Saitama City for about three years. He reportedly resided there until the attack on the animation studio occurred.

The resident of the apartment next door says Aoba banged on his door four days before the arson attack and blamed him for noise that was coming from a different unit.

Although the resident tried to explain that he was not making the noise, he said Aoba suddenly grabbed him by the collar. He said he found it impossible to communicate with the defendant.

Police say Aoba traveled to Kyoto three days before the incident and visited the site of the animation studio building before buying items for the attack.

Aoba Shinji in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture on July 16, 2019.

At around 10 a.m. on the day of the incident, he is said to have bought gasoline at a gas station near the studio.

In future trials, a doctor who conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant will be questioned as a witness.

Attention is focused on what the defendant will say during questioning about the background and motives of the incident.