Trese on Netflix Premiere: What It Means for Filipino Representation

Photo: Netflix

There is currently a ridiculous amount of TV shows and movies being produced and released every year. Creators worldwide are going above and beyond in keeping us supplied with binge-able shows to watch. In fact, it is highly unlikely that we are ever going to run out of things to add to our never-ending watchlist. However, if you find yourself reaching for something to enjoy with friends, family, or on your lonesome, then look no further than the incredibly dark and mysterious Trese.

What is with the Trese hype?

If you haven’t heard, Trese is a Philippine anime-inspired animated series based on the award-winning comic of the same name. It has recently premiered on Netflix—the massively popular online streaming service—last July 11th, 2021. Yes, you read that right. Get hyped! It’s Philippine anime! And, good news, it’s hit the ground running! It has already placed in the top 10 TV show rankings in 19 countries within its premiere week, ranking first in the Philippines and landing a spot in the top 10 lists of Netflix Canada and Netflix UAE.

Why you should watch Trese

Now you must be wondering about what makes Trese so special and worth the watch? Amongst many reasons, one that might be of interest to you is how entrenched it is in Filipino talent and creativity. From the leading crew members in production being Filipino to the voice casts of the English and Filipino dub being composed of Filipino actors and actresses, and, of course, to the source material being very, very Filipino.

A first for Philippine folklore

There are a lot of popularized mythologies and pantheons in popular culture and media. English, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies are well-known, but the same cannot be said for Philippine mythology. The rich and storied legends and beliefs of the Philippines are carry-overs from the country’s pre-colonial years that have persisted to today. 

Even as they’re transformed and changed through the Philippines’ time in the Spanish occupation, many Filipinos still strongly hold on to and even swear by them.For example, It is not uncommon for people in need to go to local healers for their problems or to say “Tabi tabi po” whenever crossing mounds of dirt near trees.

Photo: Netflix

In that sense, Trese’s Manila is achingly familiar and irrevocably transformed in the realistic and dark fantasy of its story. Here, the myths and stories that we all grew up hearing come to life in a modern, relevant, and very physical way. 

Alexandra Trese, the protagonist of the series, deals with the supernatural underbelly of Manila as she deals with the occult cases that the local policemen are unable to handle. She ponies up against tikbalang, aswang, and even a nuno sa punso, just to name a few.

Photo from wikipedia.org. The original cover of the 1st issue.

Where it started

It started as a challenge to finish a script in 20 days. It was something asked for by illustrator KaJO Baldisimo of writer Budjette Tan as a sort of bid to draw something—anything at all. In an interview with GMA News Online, Budjette Tan related how the idea for all this began as something they could do other than advertising. It was, at the core of it, a bid to escape the reality of their jobs. Tan would then dig up an old idea he had and rework it into what we now know as the first issue of Trese.

The story of Trese at a glance

What began as a gritty and dark action man would turn into what we now know as the paranormal investigator Alexandra Trese. This protagonist is tasked with keeping the peace between the human world and the creatures from Philippine folklore. Armed with a kris and a Chinese-style trench coat, she would go out into the night and solve the cases that she was dealt with. At her side protecting and battling with her, were the Kambal, sharply dressed twins with theater-inspired masks. 

For her first-ever case, aptly named “At the Intersection of Balete and 13th street”, Alexandra Trese would deal with a murder in Balete Drive. That is taking on one of the famous urban legends of the White Lady in Balete Drive in real-life Manila. This set a precedent for the issues that followed. And for the first four volumes, the comic would follow a ‘case of the week’ format. Trese would receive a case, and she would work it through to its end.

Trese‘s rise to success

The duo would release the first issue independently in 2005. But, it soon began to spread via word of mouth, gaining enough traction to garner a cult following. The reception to the humble comic would spur the two to write enough cases to create the first volume, which was then picked up by a local publisher. Trese would gain local recognition with each volume being released, even getting nominations and awards. These include the National Book Award in Graphic Literature in 2010, Filipino Reader’s Choice Award for Comics/Graphic Novels in 2013, to name a few.

Photo: A comic page from the Trese Indiegogo campaign

Following this, in 2018, they launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to get Trese an international release. This international version was an updated and redrawn version of Case 1. It included journal entries from the Book of Murders, a compiled version of the first three Trese cases. It had bonus material in the form of journal entries from Alexandra’s grandfather. The campaign was even backed and boosted by Neil Gaiman (“Sandman,” “Good Omens”), who was a self-admitted fan of the comic.

Photo: cover of the first issue of the Trese Indiegogo campaign

There currently are seven issues out of a projected 13 books—this amongst several side stories and crossovers with other projects and works.

Later in November of 2018, the same year as the successful Indiegogo campaign, Netflix announced that it would pick up this Philippine graphic novel as part of its inaugural content showcase of Netflix Asia.And the rest, as they say, is history.

The people behind Trese

The journey to screen for Trese was a slow burn. It was, in fact, eight years in the making. Budjette Tan met with Tanya Yuson and Shanty Hartman of Jakarta and Singapore-based BASE Entertainment way back in 2009. Since then, they have been pitching the series to local and international studios. Of course, as we know, they finally found success with Netflix.

Netflix promotional poster for Trese.

At the project’s helm was director Jay Oliva— a Filipino-American storyboard artist, film producer, and animated film director. He’s done work on “Justice League Dark,” “Wonder Woman,” and ”Legend of Korra,” among many others. Tanya Yuson also came on board as executive producer and scriptwriter. 

The series would be composed of six episodes and would cover the first three volumes of the comic. This posed a unique challenge as those volumes were meant to be standalone cases. Only later would the comic reveal a more interconnected and serial story. In response to this, Budjette Tan and KaJO Baldisimo gave 100% creative freedom to the production team.  

Even with the go-ahead, however, the writing team knew they had to honor the original series. They did their best to preserve the spirit of the original. There are naturally many changes that need to happen in an adaptation of one medium to another. Still, it seems like the animated series will have things for old fans and newcomers alike. 

Seeing as Trese is the first internationally-produced Philippine animated series, it generated a tremendous amount of hype. So much so that Trese was almost impossible to escape from in social media in the weeks going up to the show’s premiere.  

There was an undeniable sense of Pinoy pride that clutched fans and newcomers to the show when the trailer dropped. How could you not when the first scene of the trailer featured the MRT and the voice line: “Bigla na lang daw tumigil ang tren sa may bandang Tulay ng Guadalupe.” 

Not only was there a deluge of fanart and conversation around it, but there was also a very creative and frankly insane marketing push that sent netizens into a tizzy. From vandalized billboards and performers in costumes to the Philippine Star and Business World with fake news articles detailing the first case in their first pages, to even ABS-CBN changing the logo on top of its Eugenio Lopez Jr. (ELJ) Communications building to that of its fictional counterpart in the show ‘ABC-ZNN.’

To cap it all off, Netflix even released a poem on Trese’s midnight premiere.

Netflix PH twitter.

The voices of Trese

Trese would also make headlines for its “All-Star, All-Filipino” voice cast. The English dub would see some of the leading Filipino-American talents abroad with Shay Mitchell (YOU, Pretty Little Liars) as the titular Alexandra Trese. The cast includes Darren Criss (The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story), Jon Jon Briones (Ratched), Nicole Scherzinger (Moana), Manny Jacinto (The Good Place), Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba), and Dante Basco (Avatar: The Last Airbender). 

While the Filipino dub would be led by Liza Soberano (My Ex and Whys, Alone/Together) as Alexandra Trese and joined by the professional voice talents of Simon dela Cruz, Apollo Abraham, Christopher Carlo Caling, Christian Velarde, and Eugene Adalia.

The following is the full cast list for the show:

English-language voice cast: 

  • Shay Mitchell – Alexandra Trese 
  • Griffin Puatu – The Kambal (Crispin and Basilio), Bantay 
  • Matt Yang King – Captain Guerrero, Dominic 
  • Jon Jon Briones – Hank, Xa-Mul 
  • Steve Blum – Datu Talagbusao, Ibwa 
  • Carlos Alazraqui – Anton Trese, Santelmo 
  • Manny Jacinto – Maliksi 
  • Eric Bauza – Nuno the Snitch, Bagyon Lektro 
  • Darren Criss – Marco 
  • Nicole Scherzinger – Miranda Trese 
  • Lou Diamond Phillips – Mayor Sancho Santamaria 
  • Dante Basco – Bagyon Kulimlim 
  • Rodney To – Aswang market guard, Man in drag 

Filipino language voice cast: 

  • Liza Soberano – Alexandra Trese 
  • Simon dela Cruz – The Kambal (Crispin and Basilio) 
  • Apollo Abraham – Captain Guerrero 
  • Christopher Carlo Caling – Hank 
  • Eugene Adalia – Anton Trese 
  • Cheska Aguiluz – Miranda Trese 
  • Christian Velarde – Nuno 
  • Bryan Encarnacion – Datu Talagbusao 
  • Nica Rojo – Ramona 
  • Jo Anne Orobia-Chua – Emissary 
  • Jose Amado Santiago – Marco 
  • Steve dela Cruz – Maliksi 
  • Rene Tandoc – Mayor Santamaria 
  • Steffi Graf Bontogon-Mola – Young, Teen Alexandra 
  • RJ Celdran – Santelmo, Señor Armanaz 
  • Elyrey Martin – Ibwa, Dominic 
  • Steven Bontogon – Jobert 

Interestingly enough, the English voice cast was allowed to keep their Filipino accents for the show. Not only that, there were even a bunch of phrases and chants that were kept in the original language. In an interview with CNN, Jay Oliva revealed that the actors were also relieved to be playing Filipinos and not someone of a different Asian Ethnicity. 

All this does illustrate the care that went into the production of the series and also how that care also bleeds into good that ripples out. Representation matters, not only to those that watch it but also to those that work on it.

“Tabi-Tabi po”

The rich mythology of the Philippines is at the forefront—brought into the international stage. This is a project made by Filipinos for Filipinos, and it is worth the watch. Everyone you know, from your OFW friends and family to your foreign and online friends, can watch and experience it (provided that they have access to Netflix and the show is available in their region) from the safety of their own home. 

At only six roughly half-hour long episodes, it is ridiculously easy watching and not anything to miss. Not to mention, there are already whispers of a probable second season going around, especially if the series’ ratings continue to do well. 

It is difficult to overstate how fun it is to watch Trese. It might just be the exciting thought that the series is set in Manila or the thought that one could be fooled into trying to guess if a house and lot in the background is someplace you’ve seen before. Maybe it’s even just the giddiness that comes with the idea that your culture is exciting enough to be made stories of. 

How wonderful it is to have a very distinctly Filipino piece of media—a dark fantasy series featuring our very own mythology—be produced and gain acclaim on an international scale. Hopefully, this would set a trail for more shows like this in the future. 

Has Trese inspired you to do something with your hands? Maybe you already have a hobby that you are eager to bring to bigger heights? Mayhaps you are looking for an ideal space for your creative endeavors? Then why not look into the house and lot communities built by Camella, the countries’ trusted house and lot developer. You can trust that there are no Nuno’s and Tikbalangs here. But if you’re still worried, just say “Tabi-tabi po.” 

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