Says “We were friends, and we were a family,” in remembrance of fallen coworkers.

It’s now been three weeks since anime production company Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio was the target of an arson attack that’s resulted in the deaths of 35 employees, 10 whose names have been released. The building itself was heavily damaged, and Kyoto Animation CEO Hideaki Hatta says he would rather clear the structure away and create a memorial park on the site rather than attempt to repair or rebuild it.

But while Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio is out of commission, the company does have a second studio elsewhere in Kyoto, which is still operating. Among those currently working at the second studio is a 52-year-old veteran background artist, who’s been working at Kyoto Animation since the 1980s, but the artist (who wishes to remain anonymous) was at the Fushimi studio on the morning of July 18, when the fire started.

When the arsonist entered the building, the artist was on the second floor of the three-story building, drawing background art. He heard screams coming from below as the building’s interior quickly filled with smoke, meaning that he could neither escape via the interior stairs nor stay where he was. In desperation, he decided to jump from a second-floor balcony, and though he suffered a contusion from the resulting impact, he managed to escape with his life.

The contusion is yet to fully heal, but the man is already back at work. This isn’t a manifestation of Japan’s high-pressure professional environment, however. “I feel better when I’m working,” the artist says of his coping process.

As a Kyoto Animation employee for three decades, the artist is obviously working through an immense amount of grief. In remembering his fallen coworkers, the man says “We were friends, and we were a family.” While coworkers grabbing a bite to eat or a few drinks after work isn’t unusual in Japan, it’s far less common to invite professional colleagues to your home, but the artist says that fellow Kyoto Animation staff members would often stop by his place, including 61-year-old Yoshiji Kigami, who lost his life in the arson attack.

Though the background artist loves drawing, he admits the life of an anime creator isn’t always an easy one. “There were many times during my career that I wanted to quit,” he recalls, especially when he couldn’t get visuals to look just as he wanted them to when a deadline was fast approaching. But he says he was always able to keep going because of the supportive workplace atmosphere of Kyoto Animation and the respect he felt for the company’s employees.

Still, after such a tragedy, no one could blame the man if he felt like he needed to step away from the business of making anime for a while. But, as mentioned above, the artist says he feels best when he’s working, and intends for that work to become a tribute to the deceased. “I want to keep doing my best, so that people won’t feel like the quality of Kyoto Animation’s anime has dropped at all,” he boldly promises. “Continuing to create anime, in the same way we always have, is the greatest counterattack to what the arsonist did,” he adds, because to him, the best way to deal with such unimaginably senseless destruction is to reaffirm his commitment to creating.

Source: Nihon Keizai Shimbun/Kyodo via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Kyoto Animation
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.