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Fires

Deadly Kyoto fire deals blow to beloved anime studio

Support pours in from around the world while distributor weighs delaying films

Kyoto Animation's many anime franchises include "K-On!"   © Kyodo

KYOTO/TOKYO -- The fire at Kyoto Animation's main studio Thursday morning that killed 33 people and injured 36 others has brought an outpouring of support from fans the world over, even as it raises questions for partners about how to handle scheduled releases in the coming months.

"It's unbearable that people who carry Japanese animation on their shoulders were injured and lost their lives," said CEO Hideaki Hatta, half of the husband-and-wife team who founded the company.

The studio had received a string of threatening email messages before the arson incident, Hatta said.

"There are people who criticize anime works, just as there are those who support them," he said. "When there are threats, we consult with the police, but I have no idea of what led to this incident."

Police arrested a 41-year-old man they said confessed to setting the fire. The suspect is not believed to be a current or former employee of the studio, and identification on him at the time showed his residence as being in the greater Tokyo area -- far from the studio's home base in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture.

Established in 1981, Kyoto Animation -- known to fans in Japan and abroad as KyoAni -- is the studio behind such hit series as "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya," "K-On!" and "Lucky Star." Known for its detailed animation and well-crafted storylines, it helped inspire the trend of fan pilgrimages to anime "holy sites."

Its more recent works include the "Sound! Euphonium" series set in Uji, as well as "A Silent Voice," which was nominated for the Japan Academy prize for best animated film and was picked up by Netflix last month.

Sentai Filmworks, an American anime distributor that handles works from Kyoto Animation, launched a "Help KyoAni Heal" crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to support the studio. Donations had topped $835,000 around 3 a.m. Japan time, well above the initial goal of $500,000. The page was filled with messages of support in English, Chinese, Japanese and other languages.

The fire is certain to affect the studio's upcoming releases.

"Free! - Road to the World - the Dream," part of the popular "Free!" swimming anime franchise, just began playing July 5, and a sequel is due out next year. Theaters were slated to begin showing the latest trailer Friday but it was put on hold in response to the fire.

Shochiku, a major theater operator and movie distributor, is currently set to release two Kyoto Animation films starting in the fall, including "Violet Evergarden: the Movie." It is currently considering its options, which include postponing the release date.

A representative said Shochiku is still "assessing the situation" and cannot answer questions about its plans.

Kyoto Animation employs about 150 people, according to a private-sector credit research company. Its roster includes "A Silent Voice" and "K-On!" director Naoko Yamada and "Haruhi" director Tatsuya Ishihara, both of whom are reportedly safe. The status of "Haruhi" and "Lucky Star" director Yasuhiro Takemoto remains unknown.

Kyoto Animation sought to set itself apart from the many Tokyo-based studios by emphasizing its Kyoto roots, holding events for local fans. It has multiple studios and a company-operated merchandise store in the area.

The company is also known for treating its workers well, with animators enjoying full-employee status. Other studios usually pay artists by the frame, which leads to long hours to meet tight deadlines.

The American and French ambassadors to Japan offered condolences on Twitter.

"We send our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured in the tragedy at Kyoto Animation," U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty wrote.

"It is with horror that I learned of" the fire, wrote French Ambassador Laurent Pic, who expressed "the full solidarity of France" with the victims, their families and the studio's staff.

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