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Kyoto Animation's team culture may have led to greater fire causalities

The website of Kyoto Animation.

OSAKA -- In an anime industry concentrated in the Tokyo area, the arson-hit Kyoto Animation was a regional studio at the cutting edge of its craft, producing popular shows and films admired the world over.

What bolstered the company's success was its structure: The numerous detailed and disparate elements of anime production were completed under its own roof, enabling the studio to maintain a high quality of work.

But this very setup, with many staff working in the same location, played a big part in the tragic loss of so many lives on July 18 when the Japanese studio was targeted in an arson attack.

At the time the fire broke out, 74 people were inside Kyoto Animation's 1st Studio in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward. Thirty-four people are currently confirmed to have lost their lives in the blaze, some 20% of the company's workforce.

Normally in the anime industry, where a great deal of labor is required to produce a single title, works are produced by a group of different companies working cooperatively on separate elements of the creative process.

According to a 2016 survey by the Association of Japanese Animations, an association representing the anime industry, a total of 542 of the 622 anime production companies operating in Japan, or 87%, are based in Tokyo.

In contrast, just 17 companies do their trade in the Kansai region in western Japan, where Kyoto Animation is based. The scarcity of anime companies in the area means that a high proportion of their work is completed in-house.

At Kyoto Animation, too, almost the entire process was completed this way -- from the detailed coloring of animated frames to the composition of backgrounds and the creation of footage for the show.

"To proceed with various parts of a project simultaneously, the number of people there for that purpose in the building would usually be high," pointed out Katsuyoshi Yatabe, an anime director and professor at Osaka University of Arts.

The studio's highly original work won over fans at home and abroad, and peers in the industry praised its titles as having an idiosyncratic "Kyoani quality."

"Kyoto Animation succeeded in developing a unique style uninfluenced by others due to its relative isolation in the industry. Its individuality became a kind of brand," Yatabe said. "It's unbelievable that people who worked so hard and earnestly to create these productions have had their lives taken from them."

Kiyotaka Moriwaki, senior curator at the Museum of Kyoto's Kyoto Film Archive, who has detailed knowledge of the city's film culture, praised the studio as part of the city's heritage. "They had a strong technical ability to present their vision. They are part of the lineage of traditional Kyoto arts that brought us Kiyomizu Ware (a kind of high quality pottery) and Nishijin Textiles (high quality fabrics)," he said.

(Japanese original by Hideto Okazaki, Osaka City News Department)

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