Last year, Netflix announced that Trese, a comic set in a Manila fused with Philippine mythology, would be released as an animated series. But there are those probably wondering what exactly is Trese. Though its story is grounded on Philippine mythology, there is much more to this comic than meets the eye.  

 

Dripping in noir

The first step to the appreciation of a comic must always be its cover. An initial lookover reveals the comic’s limited color palette: shades of black and white. Even the blood on murder victims is painted with a dim grey or a smear of black. It gives the setting, our dear city of Manila, a grim and eerie feel where nothing is what it really is–a place of darkness and despair in every corner.

There’s also the first glimpse of the main title character: Alexandra Trese. She dons an obsidian oriental coat, or a changsan, worn similarly to the trench coats used by detectives in early noir films. She sports a serious attitude as she solves problems no ordinary person can handle. Always beside her are the kambal, or the twins, who serve as Trese’s bodyguards. Despite their vicious behavior in battle and a regeneration ability similar to Deadpool, their brotherly bickering provides humor to the grim story. This triad is the main cast that take the calls of Capt. Guerrero “when things take a turn for the weird”.

The first couple of issues are situated in different crime scenes. However, the twist is that a crime in Trese signals that something supernatural is in the scene of the crime. Unlike other heroes in the night, Trese isn’t a vigilante like Batman. Much like the main characters in noir films and detective/private eye thrillers, she is the bridge between the mundane world and the underworld coexisting with it. The latter of which is by far the strongest aspect of the series–the reimagining of a mythical Philippines.

 

 

Bumps in the night

In Percy Jackson-esque fashion, our legendary myths have been adapted into the bustling landscape of Manila. One notable transformation of myths is found in the literary collection of works entitled Manila Noir, where a special chapter of Trese is found. Following the deaths of a father and a son in the MRT, Trese finds herself in the realm of the dead. Instead of the usual train car, an old-fashioned steam train pulls over to the station. She is told that the MRT is being used by the Goddess of Death, Ibu, to carry souls to the underworld.

It’s reimaginings such as these that give Trese such a refreshing quality. The icon of Mercury is transformed into a sigil that enhances healing. Tikbalang, tricksters with the form of man but the body of a horse, rule the streets as drag racers. Dwende demand chocolate to grant your greatest desire. Our sketchy streets become a playground for idols. They scour the streets, hoping a desperate soul may call upon their power, or end up as their next meal.

 

Midnight musings

Despite the monochrome art direction and rather simple character facial features, every image succeeds in bringing motion and excitement to the pages. The color scheme isolates the form and structure of the image, forcing you to wholly visualize the current image in the page.  The ghoulish design of the aswang, the fiery might of the santelmo, or every panel of Trese and the kambal side-by-side; the creative and immersive designs makes each individual issue feel memorable and impactful.

Trese is also quite simple in it’s character design. To focus on the myths and crime in each issue, there isn’t much known about the main trio early into the story, aside from their awesome abilities. However, each interaction outside of solving crime feeds the reader bits of their personality. In the first issue, the kambal appear as wicked killing machines, dispatching all the aswang in the vicinity. Yet in the third issue, they bicker like any other sibling caught misbehaving by their parents about whether or not a higante made a hole in the wall.

As you continue reading, you get to appreciate the duality of the kambal: seemingly invincible warriors, but with the behavior of children underneath the masks. It’s small snippets like these don’t advance the plot, but instead reveal the human traits of these ruthless crime fighters. It motivates the reader to continue on with the story, to finally see how characters become equipped to handle these supernatural suspects.

On to the darker side of the story, horror isn’t just found in the occult. The main perpetrators in Trese are usually those wanting to borrow supernatural power to grant their desires, or seek revenge on those who have hurt them. There isn’t usually a political angle, but most of the criminal cases are rooted in common social problems, and the Philippines doesn’t have any shortage of that. For example, one case led Trese into investigating an abortion clinic after a tiyanak attack. Abortion is a common issue in the world but it is more poignant in our country where illegal abortions are a legitimate safety concern for many Filipinas. Even with spirits and creatures next to us causing havoc, Trese seems to ask us if the monsters in our myths are really monsters after all. Perhaps it is the Filipinos that are the most dangerous monsters in Trese.  

You can read the comic in the DLSU Henry Sy. Library’s Filipiniana section–10th floor, bookcase number 197–where volumes one to six are already available. Though it may seem redundant to start with the comics when the animated series is already in the works, you’ll find that the upcoming adaptation will be better appreciated with pre-existing knowledge from the source material. Knowing the origin of the story will let you better enjoy the gritty acts of crime mixed with our local brand of horror all in motion.

 

Though the main story has yet to conclude…

Trese will Return.

Score:4.0/4.0

By Anakin Loewes Garcia

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