A man screaming “You die!” burst into an animation studio in Kyoto, doused it with a flammable liquid, and set it on fire on Thursday, killing 33 people in an attack that shocked anime fans across Japan and beyond.
Thirty-six others were injured, some critically.
The suspect was hurt and taken to a hospital. Police identified him only a 41-year-old man who was not a company employee. They gave no immediate details on the motive.
Footage of the blaze showed thick white smoke pouring from windows of the three-storey building. Its facade was charred black on much of one side where the flames had burned out of the windows.
“A man threw a liquid and set fire to it,” an unnamed police spokesman told AFP news agency.
Japanese media reports said the suspect may have set the fire at the front door, forcing people to try to find other exits and slowing their escape.
A Japanese fire official Kazuhiro Hayashi said the death toll was 33 and nobody else is believed missing with 36 others injured, 10 critically.
Hayashi said firefighters found the largest number of victims on the top floor of the building, including some who had collapsed on the stairs leading to the roof.
Public broadcaster NHK said the man allegedly shouted “You die” as he poured what appeared to be gasoline around the studio shortly after 10am local time (01:00 GMT).
Most of the victims were employees at Kyoto Animation, which does work on feature films and TV productions, but is best known for its mega-hit stories featuring high school girls. The stories are so popular that some of the places depicted have become pilgrimage sites for fans.
The company has produced several well-known television anime series, including The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and K-ON!
“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.