Photo/IllutrationFire breaks out at a studio of Kyoto Animation Co. around 10:30 a.m. on July 18. (Yoshinori Mizuno)

Producing a TV anime program week after week was considered a venture of unheard-of recklessness when renowned cartoonist Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) took the challenge upon himself in the 1960s.

He said the task was expected to require so much labor and cost that those around him called his plan “stupid.”

“Astro Boy,” the work in question, turned out to be a huge hit with viewers, but the staffers who worked on it suffered from fatigue that only built up.

“Our sense of pride in being pioneers was the only thing that allowed us to keep going,” Tezuka said in “Boku wa Mangaka” (I am a manga writer), his autobiography.

Countless other pioneers have since helped Japan’s anime keep moving forward. Of all the various studios, Kyoto Animation Co. is known for the finesse of its drawing style.

Those who were working hard on creating anime there were swallowed up in flames on July 18.

There were more than 70 people in the building when the fire broke out. More than 30 have been confirmed dead. Police have detained a man who sprayed gasoline-like liquid at the site.

We are at a loss to imagine what drove him to commit such an act of extreme violence, if he was the arsonist. It is so painful to see video footage of smoke that appears to be enveloping the entire building.

The studio has been rooted in and loved by the local community.

The so-called “Kamogawa Delta,” the meeting point of the Kamogawa and Takanogawa rivers, is featured in “K-On!,” Kyoto Animation’s popular TV anime series. Another work of the studio abounds in scenes that are set along a train line operated by Keihan Electric Railway Co.

The studio’s deep affection for Kyoto, seen brimming in the vast homage paid to the city in its works, was apparently not enough to convince the suspected perpetrator to spare it from his annihilating blaze.

Kyoto Animation’s works are so highly appreciated overseas that word of the fire quickly spread around the world.

“My thoughts and prayers (go out) to Kyoto Animation Studio and its workers who brought many of us pure joy, tears and unforgettable moments,” said one online post in English, which went straight to my heart as I read it.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 19

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.