On Grieving for Kyoto Animation

Grief is an emotion I know too well — and yet, it shocks me every time.

When I saw tweets about Kyoto Animation’s studio burning, I was planning to go to sleep. Out of shock, I was looking for information and anything that could make sense of the event. It later became a thread that people would follow for news on the incident that will be remembered as the biggest mass killing in postwar Japan. More details begin to surface, but so did the rise of speculation.

“Why did the perpetrator burn the studio?”
“Who is alive and who is dead?”
“I want to know more.”

These questions that we all have are still playing out in our heads. Two to three days after this incident, there are still no answers to these questions.

And I feel that if there are answers, they would be ones that will always remain unsatisfactory.

We will never understand why the perpetrator committed such a heinous crime. And although the list of victims who have passed away will eventually come out, it gives us no relief and cannot possibly measure against the total damage against the survivors and the studio.

All we can do is grieve.

Grieving is difficult. It is an emotion that lets us process what has happened. Judith Butler in Precarious Lives says the loss of someone close is like losing a part of yourself. I believe everyone who loves Kyoto Animation and the subculture it has developed has lost a part of ourselves. Recognizing that loss is part of the process.

But I see grieving not in negative terms but as something that can be productive. I am inspired by the works of Sara Ahmed who finds Audre Lorde’s conception of anger important. Anger against the injustices of the world can become an epistemological and phenomenological method to learn why they matter and how they affect us emotionally and physically. Grieving is similar: these complicated emotions are not something we should abandon. They are not just coping strategies but a way to learn. Grieving is a perspective that lets us understand the preciousness of human lives, of art, of the world, and of the future.

We grieve to understand what makes Kyoto Animation magical — why we see the studio’s work as a part of us. Its impact on the anime industry and the people who love them is truly felt and appreciated even more once we recognize this loss.

Grieving is how we learn and perceive the world.

It is fine to cry, to not cry, to talk about it, to not talk about it — they are all methods of grieving, of learning what to make about the preciousness of Kyoto Animation and everyone else inside the studio. And they are all uncomfortable and sometimes they do feel like we are going nowhere with them — but like how learning is a slow but important process, grieving is part of how we talk about the experiences of the world.

For me, grieving for Kyoto Animation has made me realize why their storytelling is important to me. They capture a nostalgic realism that few creators care about like in Tamako Market while also represents the complicated emotions of growing up and learning to let go in works like Liz and the Blue Bird. Such artistic endeavors are important to me as a creator who wants to make people smile and learn.

And it is why I still grieve for KyoAni and I may not stop grieving for it. This is a shock to the Japanese cultural memory and more. Repercussions like issues of security will be felt in the weeks to come. The grieving will never stop.

But I recognize that I am grieving and I see grieving as a way to understand what is going around the world. I am trying to keep the memory of KyoAni alive by talking about my favorite works by them. It is the only thing I can do.

I love Kyoto Animation and I will never stop grieving for them.

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