Trese: Filipino Folklore & Cultural Details Overcome Lacking Animation

Trese is a little bit different, the first major Filipino anime series with a global premiere on Netflix. Adapted from the first 3 graphic novels by Batjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, the series features Alexandra Trese, a Babaylan, or shamaness, who solves supernatural crimes on the mean streets of Manila. It's your everyday hardboiled supernatural detective series, and set in the Philippines. What's not to love about that?

Trese: Filipino Folklore and Cultural Details Trump Generic Animation
Supernatural noir in "Trese", Netflix

The series draws on Filipino folklore and supernatural horror that feel fresh because Southeast Asian folklore is less familiar to Westerners. Tan and Badisimo also find witty and inventive ways to update the supernatural and weave it into the fabric of modern urban life as metaphors and prisms for social commentary. A corrupt mayor who does deals with demons for power, sacrificing the lives of the poor for his deal. The murder of a ghost who haunts the metro line where she committed suicide. An actress stalked by the demonized dead baby she abandoned. A lightning god who takes human sacrifices to grant good fortune to a poor district. A horse god who participates in illegal streetcar races. A man raises zombies to attack the policemen who shot dead his brother and got away with it. And through it all, Trese patrols the night streets with a pair of warrior demons as her sidekicks and a fire demon on her speed dial. There's a pleasing Hellblazer vibe to it. What makes the series fresh is the Southeast Asian perspective that uses specific details from Filipino cultural life and politics. There's a recurring motif of body horror, the ritual binding of flesh to spirit to birth horrors that catnip to horror fans.

If there's a flaw to the series, it's the low budget that results in some stiff animation and generic artwork. The content – the nuances of Filipino life and folklore – transcends those flaws and keeps your attention. This is a series steeped in local detail and pride, and justifies Netflix's brief to produce shows that would otherwise not exist.

Trese Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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