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Netflix animation “Trese” brings Filipino supernatural beings to our screens

A screenshot from the website of Netflix's “Trese.”

“Trese,” 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:

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:

On the other hand, others accuse it of apologizing for police brutality and buying into the “good cop” narrative:

Human rights worker Philip Jamilla sees “Trese” as embodying urban middle-class anxieties against public security threats transposed in the series into supernatural threats:

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:

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