Kyoto Animation: Arson-hit studio known for skilled animators and passionate fan base

by Mari Yamaguchi


It may not have the international name recognition of Studio Ghibli, but Kyoto Animation has many passionate fans and is known for its team of skilled animators that provide top-quality work for others and can produce its own hits, such as “Lucky Star,” “K-On!” and the “Haruhi Suzumiya” series.

The company hit by a suspected arson on Thursday that killed 33 people and injured 36 others also has a unique founding history.

It was started in 1981 by a former animator who recruited housewives from her neighborhood in the city of Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, where she married and moved from Tokyo, the center of the animation industry.

Yoko Hatta previously had worked at Mushi Production, a studio famous for the works of anime legend Osamu Tezuka, who created “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion.”

The company, better known as KyoAni, has won gradual recognition while providing secondary animation work for major productions. Their work included a 1998 “Pokemon” feature and a “Winnie the Pooh” video.

While providing work for top artists, the company has been able to make and feature its own stories on TV. Some of its mega-hits include “Lucky Star” in 2008, “K-On!” in 2011 and “Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2009. The company was preparing for the release of “Violet Evergarden,” a feature animation film about a woman who professionally writes letters for clients.

Places featured in the hit animation stories have become pilgrimage destinations for anime fans.

Among them is Washinoniya Shrine in Saitama Prefecture, the setting for a scene in the TV animation series “Raki Suta” (“Lucky Star”) based on comics by Kagami Yoshimizu.

Years after the TV animation ended, the area still attracts fans of Raki Suta girls, with goods featuring the characters sold at its neighborhood stores, and a portable shrine decorated with the anime characters appearing at an annual festival in September.

Ryusuke Hikawa, a pop culture expert at Meiji University, said Kyoto Animation became a brand name for “a general company that can provide high-quality presentation and animation,” while demonstrating its capability even outside the anime hub of Tokyo.

“Kyoto Animation demonstrated that a top brand can come from outside the capital,” Hikawa said in an interview with NHK. “It was a major breakthrough, and was a revolutionary change to the Japanese animation industry.”

The company’s 160 employees work at studios in Uji and Kyoto and an office in Tokyo. The company also trains aspiring animators, and produces and sells novelty goods featuring its characters.

The attack, in which a man shouting “Die!” poured a flammable liquid near the entrance and set it ablaze, shocked anime fans nationwide and overseas. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his sadness for the victims killed, tweeting that he was speechless at the magnitude of the damage.