The Underworld of Manila – Review of “Trese”

Poster Art for “Trese”. Source

It’s not often that I get to see non-European inspired horror and fantasy stories. Thanks to Netflix’s desire to create as much original content as possible, I got to enjoy their most recent new exclusive, Trese. Based on a Filipino comic that first debuted in 2005, Trese follows Alexandra Trese, a supernatural private detective who is called in by the Manila Police department when cases take a turn for the weird.

Obviously, Spoilers Ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the show.

The premise of the series is one well-known to fans of the Urban Fantasy genre (which I most definitely am): supernatural detective fighting crimes committed by the supernatural community that is always just under the surface. In Trese, the supernatural is more open but at the same time less so, as the public at large dismisses the supernatural events that occur (except for the victims of the attacks in question). This is my only gripe about the setting, since much of it does take place in public, but it’s not a major gripe. Any time the supernatural is used in a modern world setting, the public is largely unaware of it. In this series’ case, it’s more along the lines of willfully ignoring what’s right under their noses.

Alexandra is a sharp character, stoic and always in control, even when faced with monsters that are literally the stuff of nightmares. In contrast to her are her bodyguards, twin brothers Crispin and Basilio (aka the Kambal), both of whom have personality to spare, even when wearing masks. There’s an air of comfortable familiarity between the three of them, with the Kambal protecting Alexandra while gleefully engaging in violence. Add in the character of Hank, a driver and friend to Alexandra’s father, who appears in a few episodes and you have a well-rounded group of allies to compare Alexandra’s dispassionate stance. This isn’t to say that Alexandra doesn’t feel anything during her cases. The series takes time to show that Alexandra’s demeanor is earned from the hardships she’s endured as well as the price she pays for standing between humanity and the worst aspects of the supernatural world.

Cover Art for “Trese” Volume 1. Source

This series is a deep-dive into Filipino culture and mythology, which I absolutely loved. Creatures such as the aswang (vampires), tikbalang (werehorses), as well as elemental spirits that are not normally seen in Western Mythology but are nonetheless quite terrifying in their own right. My favorites among them were Maliksi, the son of the tikbalang chief, who enjoys racing cars against mortals (and is more than willing to cheat by changing into his horse form to gain an advantage) as well The Emissary (who is not a character from the comics), a speaker for Ibu, the Manobo Goddess of Death. Each of the supernatural creatures shown throughout the six episodes of the series are given their own distinct personalities and powers, even if they don’t get enough screen time to really establish their characters.

Which leads me to my only major criticism of the show: the rush that occurs through each episode. With only six episodes in total and each of them being less than half an hour in length, we don’t really get to delve too deeply into the lore of the series. There was room to expand on some of the stories. By limiting the number of episodes (which was probably a budgetary concern since animation is not a cheap process), the stories rushed through plot points as quickly as they were established. The comics, from what I’ve been able to research, were each stand-alone cases that had a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Trese is more interconnected and serialized, which adds some weight to the earlier stories once you reach the final two episodes. But I feel that it could have been a much better viewing experience if there were may two or four more episodes to the season to really flesh out the characters and the world around them.

Overall, though, I greatly enjoyed the series and would solidly recommend checking it out. If you enjoy Urban Fantasy and don’t mind a large heaping of gore and body horror, Trese is well worth the watch.

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