East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Weird in Manila: Trese (2021)

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I went into Trese, the new animated series from Nettflix, practically blind. OK, a paranormal detective story set in contemporary Manila and based on the folklore of the Philippines. But that was all.
I had seen the trailer, and I was intrigued.

I was a bit dubious because it is presented as an “anime”, but it is not a Japanese product, it was made in the Philippines. You don’t call it New Orleans Jazz if they make in in Sweden, don’t you?
Wikipedia adjusts this by describing the series as “anime-inspired”. OK.
But apart from that, I was curious.

In contemporary Manila, a fragile balance exists between humanity and the clans of supernatural creatures that live in the out-of-the-way corners of our society. When the rules get broken, it’s up to a member of the Trese family to act as investigator, diplomat, judge and jury. Alexandra Trese is the last of her line, and thing are getting increasingly weird in her beat.

The series is very good, with a few minor problems.
Six half-hour episodes are barely enough to contain all the stuff the authors, Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, hit us with – two or three more episodes, and a more leisurely pace, would have been good. As is, the finale feels a little rushed,a little too eager to tie up all the loose ends and go out with a bang.
Also, the background of the series is so fascinating, it would be nice to spend more time with the clans and varieties of supernatural creatures presented.

What is really really good is the mix of folklore and modern environment – with sexy air-spirits involved in illegal urban car racing, and sort-of-vampires managing meat markets, and ghosts and other monsters inhabiting the interstices of our world.

Using non-Western creatures and magic is not just a gimmick, but it lends the show a freshness that help compensate the basic premise, that’s not original or new, but that’s OK.

Many reviewers have compared Trese – that is based on a comic book series – to The Dresden Files, but to me it reminded more the far superior series about Detective Inspector Chen, by Liz Williams, that uses Singapore and a wide mix of supernatural creatures from all over the place to build a fun series of supernatural mysteries.

Backed by two not completely human sidekicks – Basilio and Crispin, that act as bodyguards and comedy relief – Alexandra Trese must use deduction, magic, contacts and favors, and brutality to solve a series of mysteries that will turn out to be a lot more sinister than they already appear to be.
The idea of an overarching metaplot connecting all the monster-of-the -week episodes is not original, is not new, but is expected and it works.
As said before, a few more episodes would have been good to give the series a slower burn.

In terms of artwork and animation, the series looks good despite showing its limited budget – we are basically talking a limited animation series. But it’s a small thing – as soon as we get the story going, we are caught in it an the limits of the production become irrelevant.
And there are some stunning visuals in the episodes anyway.

So, well worth a watch – Trese is fun, brutal and happy to show its influences while giving the whole confection an unusual, original spin.
We want more, and apparently we will be given more, as the ending of the last episode teases more trouble coming Alexandra’s way – and there is still one big favor she has not called on.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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