Team TokuNet interviews creator of Sword and Shield Productions and TokuNet member Max Ellis about his productions and original hero Avalon for this month’s Community Spotlight!
Please introduce yourself!
Hello, my name is Max Ellis. I am a British national who has been living in Japan for over nine years now. With a long love of anime and Japanese culture, I moved out to Japan almost as soon as I had graduated university in 2012, and have been living in the Akihabara area ever since. Two years ago I got married to my amazing wife who supports me in my various activities, and we are currently expecting our first child. I work as a translator whilst continuing my passion for film making with original tokusatsu projects and videos introducing the wonders of Japanese culture.
What got you interested in tokusatsu?
Like most westerners, I grew up watching Power Rangers, Saban’s Masked Rider, and Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, but I never properly made the connection to Japanese tokusatsu until university, where my anime club had a viewing night and somebody brought along a few clips of Kamen Rider OOO. This opened my eyes to an exciting new world, and needless to say that within a few months I had not only caught up on OOO and Gokaiger (which were airing at the time) but also on most Sentai, Kamen Rider and other major shows that had aired to date. I also started exploring the wider world of tokusatsu, learning more about the local hero culture in Japan.
Tell us more about Shield and Sword Productions! How did it start?
I started Shield and Sword Productions (S&SP) in university. As I said, I love making films and even studied it at uni, so I wanted to start my own film making group, but things didn’t really take off until I got to Japan. With so much amazing culture and things to see and do, I started carrying a video camera wherever I went, and these clips and videos became the first major series of S&SP – Eye of the Rising Sun. As I got more settled into life out here and met new people, I began to do various collaborations and short projects, and eventually started on my first independent tokusatsu project, Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger.
What was it like working on Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger?
Needless to say, there were a lot of challenges. Being new to the genre I had very few people to count on and much to learn, but through sheer passion and an inability to look reality in the face, I was able to bring together a team that included actors who wanted to try something new (one of whom would eventually become my wife) and professional stuntmen who have worked on major toku projects. Everyone gave me their all, and Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger took YouTube by storm.
Over two years, I worked as director making the three-part story, all of which can be seen on the S&SP official YouTube channel. The idea was to keep it simple as a first attempt, but I ended up gaining a lot of experience and making something that I was quite proud of. I knew I wanted to take what I had learned and pour it into my next project. Not only would I be bigger and bolder than ever before, but I also wanted to bring in more of my British heritage and love of medieval history. All of that culminated in Entaku Kishi Avalon (Avalon, Knight of the Round Table).
You had mentioned that you were working on Entaku Kishi Avalon in your Meet the Team interview two years ago. Are there any updates to the project that you can share?
To refresh people’s memories, Entaku Kishi Avalon is the current EGT project that S&SP is working on. The story revolves around Avalon, the last knight of the round table, who has traveled the world over centuries maintaining an ancient peace between humans and the Folk of the Faye; magical creatures from history and mythology (orcs, elves, etc.), whilst protecting a precious secret.
The current progress on Avalon is a mixed bag. The plan was to be part way through making the first arc of the story by now and use that for crowdfunding, but then COVID-19 hit, and production stalled badly. With a deadly virus going around, I can’t ask people to risk their health for the small amount of pay I can give them, and as such we are currently struggling to find core cast members, but my wife and friends have continued to support me, and we have been able to make some small degree of progress. Most significantly is Avalon’s recognition as not only a local hero but as the first local hero from England. This has had a big impact and Avalon has already gained a small following on Twitter. Other than that, we have a promo video on YouTube with another on the way soon. For the main series itself, we have been able to shoot a few scenes this year, but again, until we can lock down some key main cast members, things will be slow going for a while.
How has Avalon connected with Japan’s local heroes?
We have been working on getting Avalon’s name out there through collaborations with other local heroes in Japan. As the first English local hero, he has already gained a small following, but the real impact came from his involvement in J Heroes.
Started by L4 (Ninja Reppu, Gaiyuki Getto), J Heroes brings together local heroes from around Japan. In 2020, they worked around the pandemic to create a short anime series, in which Avalon got some big screen time (episode 7 onwards). In addition, this year Avalon also faced off against Ashiking, the original tokusatsu kaijin by Kaijin Shokai, in their series Ashiking Hyakku-ban Shoubu (Ashiking 100 Battles). These connections have also allowed Avalon the opportunity to appear at a couple of events in 2021; a J Heroes charity event in April, and the one year anniversary event of Kaijin Shokai in September.
It is truly an honor that Avalon has been so accepted into the culture and makes me want to work harder, maybe even getting Avalon his own hero show in the future. With my own child on the way, I want Avalon to be something he/she can be excited about and hope one day he/she can say, “You like Kamen Rider? Avalon is way cooler.”
You’ve talked about “EGT.” What is it?
“Earl Grey Tokusatsu,” or “EGT” for short, is the original genre name I coined while working on Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger. The idea came when trying to think of what you would call tokusatsu made by an English person. My mind went to spaghetti westerns (cowboy films made by Italian directors) and from there I thought “what is a famous english product that we could use in the same way?” The answer – earl grey tea.
How can people follow you and/or Avalon?
S&SP has recently launched a new website with the goal of expanding our name and business. It is currently only in Japanese, but we have an English version in the works. People interested in working with us can contact us through there.
For those who want to see more of Avalon, Eye of the Rising Sun, and other projects by S&SP, please subscribe to the official YouTube channel.
People can also follow me and Avalon on Twitter.
A Final Message for the Readers?
S&SP may still be a small group, but the support we have received is immense. I want to thank all those who enjoy our videos, and promise you that we have more on the way. Right now our main project is Avalon, and there will be a lot of exciting content coming soon to the official YouTube channel. Please go on YouTube and like our videos, subscribe to see new videos as soon as they come out, and follow Avalon and myself on Twitter to hear about any updates in the future.