Photo by Terra Dragos

Six Months Since the KyoAni Arson Tragedy

We have just passed the sixth anniversary of the KyoAni Arson tragedy which happened on July 18, 2019. I was absolutely glued to the TV as the news broke and I continued to watch in horror as more and more news was revealed. But with such tragedy, we must also remember the great contribution to the world’s art that KyoAni has given us over the years.

As a long-time fan of Japanese animation, this tragedy really struck home to me. I have been an avid animation artwork collector since my high school days, collecting animation cels, douga, genga, and anything in between. Although I mostly collect from series that most people have never heard of, I also collected some pieces from KyoAni.

For anyone interested in seeing my personal animation artwork gallery, you can find it here!

I only became aware of the Full Metal Panic series recently--no, sorry, that’s a lie. I began watching the anime when it was first released in 2002 but was somehow annoyed by a rather benign condom joke early in the series… woops! If only I could have gotten past that silly little bit, I would have quickly realized how much of a gem this series really was. Although the first season was produced by the animation company Gonzo, KyoAni picked up from the comedic stand-alone Fumoffu and the later continued on with the 2nd season, “The Second Raid (TSR)”.

The “in between” Fumoffu series is entirely stand-alone-ish, which means it does not, in any way, progress the overall story, but you get some really amazingly awesome--both series as well has hilarious--moments between the characters. It is from these select episodes that any such artwork from the series can still be found today. I personally own several full cuts of animation artwork, including complete sequences of rough genga and douga to the finalized versions as well as companion timesheets and more. What struck me especially profound was that, after the horrible KyoAni arson, I realized that some of my artwork had been produced in some part by several people who tragically lost their lives in the fire, this includes the Full Metal Panic main director, Takemoto Yasuhiro (武本康弘), and several other animators.

I don’t believe this lists any one specific who perished in the fire, but this is an example of a typical “cut sequence” in which all pertinent illustrations in a single scene are collected and submitted for approval from the lead animator. | Photo by Terra Dragos.

Several weeks after the arson, it was still very much on my mind, and although I didn’t know KyoAni all that well--I was only a fan because of their work on Full Metal Panic--I still felt compelled to do what I could, to pay my respects and show my support for all those afflicted by this unthinkable action.

And so, I made the journey from Yokohama to Kyoto. This was just a couple weeks after I had already made an unplanned trip to Osaka to see the final performance of the YoRHa Ver.1.3a stage play, an all-male cast revisioning of the YoRHa stage play, the essential prequel story to the game NieR:Automata. Shinkansen tickets alone are quite expensive, so I really was not expecting to make another sudden trip out to Osaka so soon. But as I sat in my apartment, the thought of this horrific tragedy on my mind, I knew I had to go.

Photo by Terra Dragos.

The closest station to the KyoAni main headquarters is from Rokujizou Station, which is about a 15 minute trek from Kyoto Station. To my horror, you could clearly see the charred remains of the KyoAni building from the train as it neared Rokujizou Station. It was within seconds upon that sight that I found myself already taken by grief.

As you exit the station, you find yourself in one of the most peaceful areas of Kyoto, so full of open spaces draped in green foliage. There were only residential homes and the occasional convenience store for as far as the eye could see.

Photo by Terra Dragos.

It was from this perceived calm when eventually the KyoAni building became visible. I had actually taken a wrong turn and ended up going the long way around to the building, so the path wound in front of several residential homes before approaching the KyoAni headquarters. And this sight will haunt me for all of my days.

Photo by Terra Dragos.

Nestled so quietly between old Kyoto-style homes, sat the ashen remains of the KyoAni headquarters building. Even at this distance, the odor of smoke and ash was nearly unbearable. The path leading directly in front of the building was only wide enough for a single person to pass one-way in either direction. I’ll never forget the overwhelming sadness that washed over me as I had to make my way directly in front of the building. Even to this day, as I recount these moments, I find myself overcome with emotion.

But no matter how hard it is to accept, I think it’s so important to pay our respects to those innocent people who merely went to work that day, and to remember them for all the imaginative pieces of art they gave to us.

There were several miracles that came out of this tragedy to note, one being the fact that, although most paper illustrations were lost, animators saved most of their work on the company server, which was housed in a small room on the first floor, surrounded by cement walls. This server was found intact after the blaze. It is likely that whatever project animators were working on at the time was preserved in its entirety. This may not be much of any condolence to those who lost loved ones in the fire, but at least a fraction of their life’s work has indeed arisen from the ashes to possibly find new life in the future.

Since I went to pay my respects on August 3rd, 2019, roughly two weeks after the tragedy, a make-shift alter of sorts was erected along the main road leading toward the KyoAni building. After several moments of prayer and contemplation in front of the building itself, I went over to the shrine to present some flowers I purchased at a florist near Kyoto Station. There were so many journalists and news anchors standing all about; there was even a man who directly pointed his video camera at me as I was about to pray… but I respectfully waved at him to signify that I didn’t appreciate being filmed while in prayer. I think it’s important to capture these moments; merely, I was not comfortable being the focus of the shot.

Photo by Terra Dragos.

Once leaving the shrine, I was approached by two young female journalists who proceeded to ask me various questions such as “where are you from”, “why did you come here”, etc. I was extremely emotional at the moment that I honestly didn’t feel compelled to answer anyone’s questions, but I tried my best to give an honest answer. I told them that I am a long-time resident of Japan with deep roots in Japanese animation, and that I came from the Tokyo area in order to pay my respects. They seemed extremely moved, and they were very sensitive to my very open display of emotion (I’m sure I was visibly in tears), so I am very grateful for their understanding. It must be very difficult to cover such tragic events while being sensitive to those involved and still getting the word out to the rest of the world.

As far as the mainstream media goes, there has been little word about this horrific event since last July. If you don’t go looking for news on this topic, you will likely not find anything. I understand the idea behind not wanting to broadcast such depressing topics, but I also don’t want this to fade into obscurity. It’s important to address mental health. This is not solely a Japanese problem; it’s a very “normal” human problem. The more we’re able to openly discuss these issues, the less likely tragedies like this may occur.

I may not be the best KyoAni fan to talk on this topic--they have produced far more popular series than Full Metal Panic that I have never seen before, but with all honesty, I hope anyone who is a KyoAni fan, or anyone who is a general anime/manga fan, that this moment--no matter how tragic--is never forgotten. Although their physical artwork may have gone up and flames that early, July morning, our passion for the arts will never be quenched so easily.

I write this in loving memory of all those affected by this tragedy.

By - Terra Dragos.