Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the attack in the city of Kyoto “too appalling for words.”
Police detained a 41-year-old man who had shouted “die!” as he poured what appeared to be gasoline around the three-story Kyoto Animation building shortly after 10 a.m. (6 p.m. Wednesday PDT), public broadcaster NHK reported.
Thirty-three people were confirmed dead, an official for the Kyoto City Fire Department said.
Fire engulfed the building as white and black smoke billowed from its charred windows. It was Japan’s worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack on a Tokyo building in 2001.
Some of the victims were found in the studio, some on the third floor and others in a staircase leading to the roof, the fire official said. Another 36 were injured, 10 of them seriously, the official said.
The suspected arsonist was injured and was being treated in hospital, so police could not question him, NHK said.
Kyoto police declined to comment.
Among Japan’s most well known studios, Kyoto Animation’s most famous works include “Free!”, manga series “K-On!”, the anime TV adaptation of “Haruhi Suzumiya” and “Violet Evergarden,” which Netflix picked up in 2018. Its movie “Free! Road to the World – The Dream” is due for release this month.
“I am heartbroken,” Hideaki Hatta, the studio’s chief executive told reporters. “It in unbearable that the people who helped carry Japan’s animation industry were hurt and lost their lives in this way.”
There was an outpouring of support for the studio on Japanese-language social media, with some users posting pictures of animation. Many posted with the hashtag “#PrayForKyoani” – using an abbreviation for Kyoto Animation.
The studio has an outsized impact on Japan’s animation industry that outstrips the list of works it has produced, said Tokyo-based film commentator Yuichi Maeda.
“It has a huge presence in animation here. To have this many people die at once will be a huge blow to the Japanese animation industry,” he said.
Violent crime is relatively rare in Japan but occasional high-profile incidents have shocked the country.
Less than two months ago, a knife-wielding man slashed at a group of schoolgirls at a bus stop in Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo, killing one girl and the father of another, while injuring more than a dozen children.
In 2016, a man armed with a knife broke into a facility for the disabled in a small town near Tokyo and killed 19 patients.
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