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Trese review: Netflix anime is an outstanding attempt at bringing Filipino culture to the mainstream

·5-min read

In Netflix's neo-noir anime Trese, danger rears its ugly head as soon as night falls on Manila. The city, teeming with mythical Philippine folklore creatures, is threatened by criminal activity far more sinister than petty theft and kidnapping. "Beware the ones that crave your blood and covet your souls," warns Alexandra Trese , a babaylan (shaman) detective, the only one Manila cops turn to for help when stumped by an offence far beyond their understanding or jurisdiction. The character, voiced by Shay Mitchell in English, is also a mediator between mankind and the underworld, an enforcer of accords that ensure these supernatural beings toe the line.

Trese is based on the award-winning Filipino komik (comic) of the same name by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, who also serve as showrunners alongside Jay Olivia (Doctor Stranger, The Legend of Korra).

Crispin and Basilio voiced by Griffin Patau. Netflix
Crispin and Basilio voiced by Griffin Patau. Netflix

Crispin and Basilio voiced by Griffin Patau. Netflix

In her pursuit to solve supernatural crimes, Trese is always accompanied by her bodyguards €" hunky demigod twins Crispin and Basilio (Griffin Puatu) €" collectively called the kambal. She has a fire entity Santelmo (Carlos Alazraqui) housed inside a Nokia cell phone on speed dial; Jobert (Steven Bontogon), a nerdy ghost for tech-related aid; and a manhole dwelling lackey, Nuno (Eric Bauza), who is her eyes and ears.

While it's common for studios to serve and recreate Egyptian, Roman and Greek tales, Netflix is leading a revolution by bringing more Asian voices into mainstream media. Trese is a primer on figures that belong to both classic and indigenous Filipino legends €" from man-eating vampiric aswangs, gigantic half-horse beasts tikbalang, arachnoid tiyanaks to goblin-like duwende and the primary villain, the bloodthirsty god of war Datu Talagbusao. However, this abundance of beasts can make it hard to keep track of who's who.

Eric Bauza as Nuno. Netflix
Eric Bauza as Nuno. Netflix

Eric Bauza as Nuno. Netflix

Mitchell (best known for Pretty Little Liars) seamlessly embodies the tough and effortlessly cool Trese, who carries out just about every investigation with unsentimental, clinical precision. A strong female lead €" whether animated or live-action €" is always a pleasure to watch onscreen. And Trese's voice never betrays any emotion, no matter how grotesque a situation she encounters. Trese may maintain distance and a professional detachment from the kambal, the trusty bartender-sometimes driver Hank, and her police buddy Captain Guerrero (Matt Yang King), but these are the relationships she has come to value. They support, and even sacrifice themselves to protect her.

Trese boasts of a large English-language voice cast with Filipino-American actors €" Darren Criss as Maliksi, former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger as Miranda Trese, and Lou Diamond Phillips as Mayor Sancho Santamaria. Mitchell, a Canadian-Filipino, speaks in a typical North American accent, and others €" probably in a bid to add local flare to their characters €" adopt a Filipino one. The attempt may sound artificial at the beginning, but eventually grows on you. A native speaker might just be a better judge of whether the voice cast executes the diction and modulation without any caricaturing.

Manny Jacunto as Maliksi, a tikbalang. Netflix
Manny Jacunto as Maliksi, a tikbalang. Netflix

Manny Jacunto as Maliksi, a tikbalang. Netflix

While I have not read the source material, I do know that it is originally in black and white. The show pays homage to this in spite of being in colour: Utilising a dark palette that creates an immersive experience, all the while accentuating the fantastical horror elements of the story. Trese also thrives on body horror and violence €" eyes popping out of their sockets, blood spurting from dismembered limbs, ashen-faced zombies with listless eyes. This no holds barred approach may leave horror novices quaking.

The haunting intro track composed by the Kiner Brothers, which features either chants in Filipino or rapidly recited incantations, juxtaposed against the red, white and black-themed opening segment, sets the overall mood of the show. The outro is called 'Paagi', an airy dream pop song by Filipino band UDD.

Carlos Alazraqui as Santelmo and Shay Mitchell as Alexandra Trese. Netflix
Carlos Alazraqui as Santelmo and Shay Mitchell as Alexandra Trese. Netflix

Carlos Alazraqui as Santelmo and Shay Mitchell as Alexandra Trese. Netflix

Moreover, Trese's nod to Filipino culture extends far beyond its mythology. The intricate, hyper-realistic Manila skyline at night-time, always at night-time, is striking. So are the faithful recreations (all information vetted by Google) of the transit system and its regular breakdowns, the New Bilibid prison, the Meralco building that houses Manila's major electric company, and a TV station building ABC-ZNN (a play on ABC-CBN). Additionally, interpolated into the story is commentary on current political and social issues €" crooked elected officials, police brutality, economic inequality, and the taboo surrounding pregnancies outside marriage €" that give some perspective of what life is like in the tropical nation.

Trese is not an 'anime' in the truest sense, since that is just an umbrella term used by Netflix to group its 2D animated projects. However, the show does adhere to the short episodic structure standard to most anime: six episodes with a runtime of 30 minutes. Trese has a theatrical touch, it's more like a three-hour long movie broken into bite-sized pieces since all episodes are linked by flashback sequences.

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, we discover (>spoiler alert) that he was manipulating most events. This is not an atypical style of storytelling, neither does it hinder the overall experience; perhaps the creators were saving the best for the last, hoping to reach a conclusion with a bang.

In all, there's nothing formulaic about this show; it always keeps you on the edge of the seat. Every episode ends with a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting more.

Trese is streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here €"

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