Yasuhiro Takemoto, Anime Director, Died in Kyoto Arson Attack


In the opening sequence of “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid,” a hungover computer programmer sets off to her dreaded office job, only to encounter a five-story-tall dragon waiting outside her door. Before Miss Kobayashi can decide whether she’s in a dream, the dragon has transformed into a young woman in a maid’s costume.

Fans of the anime director Yasuhiro Takemoto say the television series was typical Takemoto: fantastical yet relatable; visually beautiful and narratively strange. Last year a major anime website awarded it best TV comedy and best TV ending. News in February that the show would have a second season was widely celebrated.

But before a release date emerged, Mr. Takemoto was killed, alongside more than 30 of his friends and colleagues, in one of the deadliest massacres in Japanese history. On July 18, an arsonist set fire to Kyoto Animation, the studio that helped turn Mr. Takemoto into a household name in the world of anime.

After weeks of confusion about whether Mr. Takemoto was among the victims, the Kyoto police confirmed his death on Friday.

Most of the fire victims have not been publicly identified. Of those who have, many had remarkable biographies. But few creators anywhere had been with the company, known affectionately as “KyoAni,” longer than Mr. Takemoto, said Christopher Macdonald, the chief executive of the Anime News Network.

Mr. Takemoto, 47, joined the studio in his 20s, holding every job in the book: junior animator, key animator, storyboard artist, writer, assistant director, episode director, series director, trainer of young talent. In the credits of the studio’s most beloved TV shows and films, his name is usually there — whether up front or at the end with a “special thanks.”

“It’s hard to imagine KyoAni without Takemoto and Takemoto without KyoAni,” Mr. Macdonald said.

Cayla Coats, the editorial manager at Crunchyroll, an anime distributor and news site, said “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid” encapsulated what was so special about Mr. Takemoto’s directorial style. “His sensitive and empathetic directing style managed to take a somewhat absurd story about a live-in dragon maid and bring out the deeply human themes of adopted families and bridging emotional distances,” she said.

Peter Tatara, the event director for Anime NYC, made a similar observation. “It didn’t matter how outlandish” Mr. Takemoto’s stories were, he said. “Whether they were about dragons or aliens, there was a certain humanity and intimacy that grounded them and made them very real.”

Mr. Takemoto decided he wanted to study animation after watching the 1986 movie “Castle in the Sky,” according to a magazine interview cited by The Japan News. Directed by the famed filmmaker and animator Hayao Miyazaki, the movie centers on an orphan’s attempt to keep her magical amulet from space pirates with the help of a new friend.

After studying anime in Osaka, Mr. Takemoto joined Kyoto Animation in 1996, according to The Hollywood Reporter and The Japan News. Over the years, he steadily attracted fans, and many credited the 2007 television series “Lucky Star” with introducing him to a wider audience. Based on a manga comic strip by the same name, it focuses on the day-to-day lives of four high school girls.

Though the characters are fictional, the town and a Shinto shrine that plays a crucial role were modeled after real locations. As the show grew in popularity, hundreds of thousands of fans from across Japan — and eventually beyond — made pilgrimages to the Washinomiya Shrine, about an hour from Tokyo.

Because fans were respectful and locals appreciated the visitors, it became a new model for anime tourism, according to Takayoshi Yamamura, a professor in the Center for Advanced Tourism Studies at Hokkaido University, who wrote a paper on the topic.

Online, fans posted videos of themselves recreating the dance sequences from the show.

In 2010, Mr. Takemoto was a director of what The Hollywood Reporter called “one of the longest anime ever made.” Nearly three hours long, the movie, “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya,” won best film at the Animation Kobe Awards and became one of Mr. Takemoto’s most commercially successful films, grossing $8 million in Japan, according to the Internet Movie Database.

A profile of Mr. Takemoto in 2017 said he “shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.”

In the aftermath of the blaze, there was a great deal of confusion about whether he’d been in the office or traveling that day. Early reports suggested he had died, only to be contradicted by widely shared tweets stating that he was fine. Finally, on Friday, the Kyoto police confirmed he was among the dead.

Daisuke Okeda, a lawyer representing Kyoto Animation, told The New York Times on Monday that he could not answer questions until “all funerals have been administrated.” In a statement, Kyoto Animation asked the news media to refrain from interviewing bereaved family members and colleagues.

Mr. Takemoto’s father spoke to The Mainichi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, while holding his son’s white cat key chain, recovered from the fire. “It still smells of smoke,” he said.

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