After 15 years since its debut in the local comic book community, the pages of Trese finally came to life as an anime adaptation on Netflix, making it the first Filipino-inspired animated show to premiere on the streaming giant’s platform. Helmed by animation veteran Jay Oliva and written by Tanya Yuzon, the series aims to frame Filipino mythology into stories that are accessible to audiences across the globe. The streaming giant even launched a massive marketing campaign to promote the premiere of the show. Portrayals of folklore and mythological figures from Roman, Greek, Chinese, and Japanese cultures have been prevalent in visual media for years, but Filipino folklore has never hit the globe in a form like Trese.
This begs the question: Did Trese manage to meet our expectations?
Based on the award-winning graphic novel series by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, the six-episode neo-noir show follows Alexandra Trese, a Babaylan Mandirigma who follows the footsteps of her father to serve as Manila’s bridge between humanity and the supernatural, enforcing the accords that were created to keep the balance between the two sides. She also assists the police in investigating supernatural crimes that bleed into the natural realm.
Each investigation works in tandem with a central throughline that blends into the shadows of each episode until it is finally brought into full daylight. Character development for Trese and others creeps in as the stakes run apocalyptically high.
Trese doubles as a primer on figures that belong to classic and indigenous Filipino myths such as the vampiric aswangs, the goblin-like Nuno sa Punso, and gigantic half-horse beasts Tikbalang. The show also succeeds in bringing the grit of Manila’s streets to the small screen – from the faulty MRT trains to the shoddy corners of Tondo, and the iconic Meralco and ABS-CBN buildings. It is a complete delight to see these familiar sights get translated into the neo-noir medium of Trese.
The series builds out an extensive world and does so by weaving mythological beats into every aspect of its story. While the series harkens a horror and gory motif, Trese infuses a slew of whimsical and comedic elements, albeit mature and dark to keep true to the source material. The show also strikes a decent balance between its fantasy elements and hardboiled detective storytelling, which makes the six-episode affair interesting.
Sadly, Trese isn’t without its own flaws. Despite the vivid imagery of Manila’s landscape, a number of the show’s action sequences appear stiff and flat on the screen, weakening the supposed impact of the fights on their viewers. The animation’s inconsistency is also somehow glaring, which we can directly attribute to budgetary and production constraints.
There are plenty of characters that enter and exit the show at random. Some, like Hank the bartender, are never given a proper introduction or backstory. The primary antagonist Datu Talagbusao’s role remains vague as at the outset he only appears in flashbacks. It’s only right at the end that we discover his true role in the conflict. This is not an atypical style of storytelling, nor does it hinder the overall experience; perhaps the creators were saving the best for the last, hoping to reach a conclusion with a bang.
The show boasts a large English-language cast consisting of Filipino-American actors Shay Mitchell, Darren Criss, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Dante Basco, while its Tagalog counterparts are led by Liza Soberano, Apollo Abraham, Cheska Aguiluz, Simon dela Cruz, and Eugene Adalia. While the rest of the cast managed to carry out an amazing job, both Mitchell and Soberano fell a bit short.
Not to discount the leads’ performances, but both actresses leaned hard into the titular character’s stoicism. While this seems like an ideal approach on paper, it also, somehow, disconnects Alex from the other characters. In addition, Soberano’s lack of experience in voice roles is prevalent in some of the scenes. You can clearly hear her struggle with a few lines, but thankfully, there are occasions where she truly shone the brightest. Here’s to hoping that Soberano will improve even more in a future Trese season.
In conclusion, Netflix’s Trese is a love story to all fans of Filipino folklore. Amid the glaring flaws and chinks of the show, the series is truly a great step in the right direction. This is a show made by Filipinos for Filipinos and is certainly the animated adaptation we’ve been all hoping for.
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