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EDITORIAL | Death Verdict Warranted for Kyoto Animation Arsonist

Aoba killed 36 talented animators at Kyoto Animation studio. Society must ensure that criminals like him face the gravity of their actions and prevent copycats.



Kyoto Animation's Studio 1 building in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture in July 2019. (©Kyodo)

It was a horrendous act — a premeditated crime undertaken with murderous intent that took the lives of 36 innocent people and seriously injured 32 others at the Kyoto Animation studio. What is more, the extremely cruel nature of the crime spread social unrest and gave rise to copycat crimes. That the sentence would be the death penalty was inevitable. 

Regarding the question of criminal responsibility, the defense argued that the defendant was not guilty on the grounds that he was driven by a severe delusional disorder. It was the biggest point of contention at the trial. However, the Kyoto District Court ruled that the effects of the defendant's delusions were limited and he was fully responsible for his actions. 

The trial began in September 2023. It proceeded in three stages through 22 sessions: (1) background and motive, (2) criminal responsibility, and (3) sentencing. Around 80 victims and bereaved family members took advantage of the victim participation system to directly question the defendant and voice their feelings. The dignified manner in which the trial proceeded, which made things easy to understand for both the judges and the general public, is certainly deserving of praise. 

The Kyoto District Court on January 25. (Handout)

Unfathomable Anguish

The defendant, Shinji Aoba, suffered severe burns and nearly died while he was committing the arson. He attended the trial in a wheelchair and spoke in detail. 

Aoba explained that he committed the crime out of the delusional belief that Kyoto Animation had plagiarized his story idea. He apologized, saying things like, "My thinking was foolish" and "I feel remorseful." However, the judges rejected his proffered apologies, stating in their verdict, "There has been no true remorse and no reform is to be expected." 

Still, it was very meaningful for the defendant to hear directly at the trial the intense anger and unfathomable anguish of the bereaved families. He was exposed to the seriousness of the outcome of his actions. Related institutions should also make efforts to ensure that Aoba and other defendants who have been sentenced to death thoroughly ponder the gravity of their crimes and spend their days making serious atonement.

Kyoto Animation's Studio 1 building in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture in July 2019. (©Kyodo)

Dreams Destroyed

The 36 victims who lost their lives in the incident ranged in age from 21 to 61 at the time of their deaths. They had great hopes for their futures in the anime industry. In addition, the 32 victims who sustained various degrees of injury have suffered deep physical and mental scars after having the very hands that had produced world-class anime works burned.

Furthermore, the verdict mentioned the "risk of copycat crimes," noting Aoba's sympathy for the perpetrator of a stabbing rampage in the Akihabara district of Tokyo in 2008. The perpetrator was later executed. Aoba had such past incidents in mind when he was planning to commit indiscriminate mass murder using gasoline.

Only around two years after the Kyoto Animation incident, a former patient committed arson at a clinic in Osaka which took the lives of 26 people. This chain of atrocities must not be allowed to continue. How can we prevent a second Shinji Aoba from appearing? That is a question that society needs to take very seriously. 



(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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