Around 100 bereaved family members and company officials on Saturday mourned the 36 victims of a deadly arson attack on the Kyoto Animation Co. studio, marking the first anniversary of the country’s worst crime in decades.

During the memorial service held at the site of the studio, which has since been demolished, President Hideaki Hatta pledged to rebuild the company.

“Being one in heart with our friends, their family members and those who support us, we will go forward step by step, albeit slowly,” he said.

Addressing the ceremony at the site, one of the bereaved family members present read out a message, saying, “We have no choice but to keep living with these feelings of sadness and loneliness.”

The ceremony was not open to the media at the request of the company, known internationally for producing a number of popular animation works such as “K-On!” and “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.”

The company, often referred to as KyoAni at home and abroad, released a memorial video clip that showed condolence messages on its YouTube account at 10:30 a.m., the time of the arson attack, which also left 33 people injured.

Family members said despite one year passing, it felt as if time has stopped.

Visitors mark the one-year anniversary Saturday of the deadly arson attack on the Kyoto Animation Co. studio in the city. | KYOTO ANIMATION / VIA KYODO
Visitors mark the one-year anniversary Saturday of the deadly arson attack on the Kyoto Animation Co. studio in the city. | KYOTO ANIMATION / VIA KYODO

Shinichi Tsuda, 70, continues to feel the pain of losing his 41-year-old daughter, Sachie. She had worked on projects such as “Detective Conan.”

“She was a natural at doing the things she liked,” he told Kyodo News, fondly recalling his daughter’s talent since childhood.

Although KyoAni has warned its fans not to personally visit the site, where the three-story studio once stood, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, some people were seen near the venue paying their respects.

Osamu Nonoguchi, a 52-year-old company employee, expressed sadness over the tragedy.

“I hope (KyoAni) will overcome the grief and continue to show us fun works,” he said.

The company’s latest work, “Violet Evergarden the Movie,” which was produced by remaining staff, is scheduled to be released on Sept. 18. The studio was the center of the company’s anime production.

The alleged arsonist, Shinji Aoba, was arrested in May, 10 months after the attack, after authorities judged him to have recovered sufficiently from life-threatening burns sustained in the incident.

Shinji Aoba | KYODO
Shinji Aoba | KYODO

He is currently confined for expert evaluation to see whether he is mentally competent and can be held accountable for the crime.

As Aoba’s critical condition affected the ongoing investigation, it remains uncertain when his criminal trial will actually start.

The 42-year-old suspect from the city of Saitama has admitted to setting fire to the studio with gasoline and sources quoted him as saying, that he believed he could kill “many people by using gasoline.”

The number of victims makes the attack one of Japan’s biggest-ever mass murders, but investigators have been struggling to get to determine the motive for the crime.

Investigative sources said Aoba has told investigators Kyoto Animation “stole a novel” from him, referring to a work he says he submitted to a public contest held by Kyoto Animation in which it accepts draft novels and then makes the winning works into anime.

Although the firm has said that someone with the same name as Aoba submitted a novel, it denies basing any of its anime off this work.

“Some scenes of ‘Tsurune’ look like those from my novel,” he was quoted by the investigators as saying, referring to a KyoAni animation featuring high school students who practice kyudo, or Japanese archery.

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