A memorial for the 36 people killed in the 2019 arson attack on anime studio Kyoto Animation Co. was held on Tuesday, ahead of the start of the suspected culprit's trial in September.
Bereaved family members and the company's President Hideaki Hatta were among the roughly 150 people who attended the event, held at the site where the studio once stood in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward. Fans were asked to refrain from coming to the location to keep the solemn event private.
"No matter how many years pass, my feelings have not changed a bit. The sadness does not ease," Hatta told reporters after the ceremony, adding, "It was of great sorrow that we lost such talented peers. As a company, the damage has been enormous."
There were 70 employees inside the company's No. 1 Studio when Shinji Aoba allegedly poured gasoline on the premises and set it alight on the morning of July 18, 2019. Of those inside the building, 36 were killed and 32 others suffered injuries.
The company, often referred to as KyoAni, is known internationally for producing popular animations, including "K-On!" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya."
In addition to holding the memorial, the firm released a YouTube video featuring messages for those who lost their lives at 10:30 a.m., when the studio was attacked four years ago.
Among them was a message from a bereaved parent that read, "Your skills and passion have been passed down to the employees at KyoAni, and they will continue to make great pieces. While I am unable to do such work, which leaves a name behind for future generations, I'm proud to have had a daughter like you."
Aoba, 45, is set to stand trial on charges that include murder from Sept. 5 at the Kyoto District Court. The trial over the high-profile case will involve lay judges and will allow victims to participate. The court is scheduled to hand down a ruling on Jan. 25, 2024.
Although Aoba was apprehended at the scene of the attack, he was not arrested by Kyoto police until May 2020, after receiving treatment for severe burns himself.
He underwent six months of psychiatric examinations before prosecutors decided in December 2020 that he could be held criminally responsible. A separate evaluation requested by Aoba's lawyers has also been concluded.