Series features Philippine folklore and the “dark side” of Manila
Originally published on Global Voices
“Trese,” a Netflix animated adaption of the comic series of the same title by Kajo Baldisimo and Budjette Tan, brings some classic Filipino supernatural mythologies to a city beset by gruesome crimes, police violence, government corruption, urban poor evictions, and other contemporary social realities.
The six-part series, released in June 2021, focuses on the story of Alexandra Trese, a shaman-detective dedicated to solving crimes committed by mythical beings and defending the human realm from intrusions of the otherworldly.
Unsurprisingly, “Trese’s” Netflix run has sparked interest among Filipino citizens curious about how the series represents Filipino myths.
There are mixed views on “Trese’s” treatment of Philippine folklore, with journalist DLS Pineda taking a swipe at its representation of mythical creatures:
Is the coast clear?
Trese’s major problem is that it treated folklore like mutants with superpowers. There was no connection with reality. If there was, it was forced and it failed miserably. Folklore explains the inexplicable, makes inexplicable the explainable. Trese did not.
— DLS Pineda (@dlspineda) July 10, 2021
I feel like this opinion is only correct bcos its looking through a lens that is not necessarily the one used by the makers. I mean did the maker intended to expound on the folklore or did they want to make a kickass animation based on the folklore.
— potato ferdie (@KingTheFerdie) July 11, 2021
While your criticism is valid the original material felt like a playful mash up of 90s urban myths and police procedural which they wrapped up with a big character arc. Hopefully they explore the folklore a bit more in a second season, writing outside past the original comic.
— san narciso (@ohitspao) July 10, 2021
Since its first installment in 2005, the “Trese” comic series has reached seven volumes and attained national acclaim and international recognition. A chapter from the series was even included in the 2013 Akashic Books short story collection Manila Noir, underscoring its cultural significance.
“Trese” also features frequent supernatural crossover with Filipino mythology, from the dwarf-like nuno inhabiting a manhole, the half-horse tikbalang in a drag race on the highway, up to monstrous aswang maintaining wet markets for human meat in the capital city of Manila.
This fascinating mix of gothic and noir elements extends to its integration of police-procedural with inexplicable and magical resolutions; as well as a dark vision of criminality and corruption pervading urban life.
On the one hand, some netizens see “Trese” as a condemnation of police brutality:
Trese calling out the police brutality happening in the Philippines.
— çalla lilium | XIII (@yokaaaaaai) June 12, 2021
On the other hand, others accuse it of apologizing for police brutality and buying into the “good cop” narrative:
trese is.. okay. it was really nice & refreshing to see filipino folkfore come to life & to be able to understand the context behind certain local words, but the cop propaganda really put me off lol i don’t think it was a right move considering the level of police brutality here
— ; (@letterfull) June 12, 2021
Little thought bubble on the Trese series.
I don’t like how it spent so much time being sympathetic towards “good” cops. In fairness, it *did* touch on police brutality and “bad” cops in the system, but it only seemed to do so–
— Rafie (@rafieoftherafs) June 17, 2021
Human rights worker Philip Jamilla sees “Trese” as embodying urban middle-class anxieties against public security threats transposed in the series into supernatural threats:
Back to policing. In perpetuating social order, policing often relies on securitizing latent anxieties as existential threats to public security—and Alexandra Trese plays this role of a supernatural police in keeping these monsters at bay (not to mention her work with policemen).
— Philip Jamilla (@pmjamilla) June 11, 2021
Writer Emil Hofileña noted that the series made some story-telling and production concessions in order to attract an international audience.
So these six episodes can’t stop at individual mysteries. They must promise audiences an epic fantasy story that can span multiple seasons, and several voice dubs have to appeal to demographics across different continents.
Journalist Alec Joshua Paradeza commented on the state of animation in the Philippines:
Bagaman malakas ang lukso ng dugo at #PinoyPride, ang Base Entertainment, na siyang namahala sa produksiyon ng Trese, ay isang film company na nakabase sa Jakarta at Singapore. Hindi naman ito kagulat-gulat, dahil sa pagdidiin na bata pa ang industriya ng animation sa bansa, kung masasabi ngang industriya ito.
Nitong nagdaang mga panahon ay malakas ang tulak para kilalanin ang animation bilang nakabubuhay na career, na ligtas sa pandemya, ngunit hindi natatalakay ang katotohanang kalakhan ng mga animators sa Pilipinas ay outsourced ng mga dayuhang kompanya.
Malayo ang agwat ng animation ng Trese kumpara sa mga anime na inilalabas ng Japan dahil sa mahaba nilang tradisyon ng animation. Kinilala naman ito ng mga tagasubaybay: may pagtitimpla sa ekspektasyon kaya itinuon ng marami ang pagtanaw sa patuloy na pag-unlad nito sa mga susunod pang panahon.
While it certainly inspired #PinoyPride, Base Entertainment, which produced Trese, is a company based in Jakarta and Singapore. This is not surprising, given the infancy of the animation industry in the Philippines, if it can really be said to be an industry at all.
These past years there had been a strong push to recognize animation as an acceptable career that is safe from the pandemic, but there is no discussion of the reality of most animators in the Philippines as outsourced labor by foreign companies.
There is a huge gap in the animation of Trese in contrast to the anime released by Japan because of their long animation tradition. Observers recognize this: there is a leveling of expectations hence many focused on its continuing development in the future.
In the end, amidst the hype and mixed reception, “Trese” for many offers hope for the future of Philippine animation:
it’s so inspiring and hopeful to think about how trese on netflix is going to open so many doors for other local artists and writers who are dreaming to get their works published and/or adapted 🥺 nothing but gratitude for them for blazing the trail
— ᴛꜱᴀᴍʙɪ | ᴄᴏᴍᴍꜱ ᴏᴘᴇɴ (@tsambolero) June 11, 2021