Shinji Aoba, the arsonist who set the fire at anime production company Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio in the summer of 2019, has admitted that his goal in the attack was to kill as many people as he could. The reason for his rage, as he shouted as he was being taken into custody on the day of the incident, is that he felt Kyoto Animation had stolen one of his ideas and used it in one of their anime without crediting or compensating him.
Aoba isn’t a scriptwriter by trade, but he had submitted an entry to Kyoto Animation’s periodic novel-writing competition, which is open to amateur authors and issues awards that sometimes include publishing and anime adaptation deals. Though Kyoto Animation confirmed that it had received a submission from Aoba, the company added that it was removed from awards consideration after the first round of judges’ evaluations, and that it had “no similarity to any Kyoto Animation works.”
During the arson investigation, it came to light that Aoba felt Kyoto Animation had stolen his work for use in its "Tsurune" TV anime, which premiered in 2018 (and is itself an adaptation of a novel series by author Kotoko Ayano). Kyoto Shimbun is now reporting that Aoba has indicated the specific scene that he feels was copied from his novel, with the arsonist saying “The thing Kyoto Animation copied from me was the scene in Tsurune where the main characters buy discounted meat.”
"Tsurune," it should be noted, is not a cooking anime. The series follows a group of boys in a high school archery club. The discounted meat scene is a non-consequential moment that takes place in Episode 5, which originally aired on Nov 18, 2018, exactly eight months before the arson attack took place. In the episode, teammates Minato and Nanao make a shopping run during a training retreat for the club. Minato proposes buying meat that’s near its expiration date, since they’ll be eating it all that day and it’s cheaper. Nanao compliments him on his clever thriftiness, and Minato deflects the praise by saying that it’s something that he’s used to from his family having a tight grocery budget. Then they talk a bit about how another member of the club, Kaito, has a gruff exterior, but is actually a really kind guy, in his own way, underneath.
From just about any angle, it’s an overwhelmingly generic bundle of storytelling tropes and character archetypes, ones that have been established and repeated in hundreds of anime stretching back dozens of TV seasons. Even the idea of picking out soon-to-expire items at the grocery store to stretch your budget is common knowledge in Japan, and the entire scene lasts just two minutes and 25 seconds.
It’s possible that Aoba’s novel used a similar framing device to celebrate a character’s subtle earnestness, and perhaps a desire to have his own self-perceived virtues recognized by others made the idea seem particularly personal to him, but “character has good traits that nobody notices until they’re revealed in an unexpected way” is one of the most standard setups in anime, and so Aoba’s claim that Kyoto Animation owed him a debt for that brief snippet of "Tsurune" is unlikely to earn him any leniency when punishment is handed down in his trial.
Sources: Kyoto Shimbun, Kyodo News
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