An opportunity missed?: Where ‘Trese’ failed

Published June 14, 2021, 4:09 PM

by Rom Mallick

Going beyond the hype: How successful is ‘Trese’ the anime?

That an original Filipino graphic novel has made it to Netflix is a source of pride for every Pinoy, there is no doubt—that this said graphic novel is “Trese,” which has inspired an international following since it was first published in December 2005 by Budjette Tan and KaJO Baldisimo, makes it even more fascinating.

Alexandre Trese with Basilio and Crispin, as they appear in Netflix’s anime version of ‘Trese’ (Netflix)

Indeed, almost everything about Netflix’s new anime is great. It has an interesting enough storyline, a good mix of characters from the original graphic novels that have been connected by the show’s writers led by Tanya Yuson into a fantastic ensemble of Pinoy mythological creatures. Although received with mixed feelings, it’s fair to say that the voice actors selected for the series did fairly well, at least for the English and, to a certain extent, the Filipino dubs. But let’s set aside all that talk about Liza Soberano, who deserves to be credited for at least trying her best to give life to the fierce Alexandra Trese, for a moment and focus on “Trese” itself as an anime feature.

Let’s start with those aspects of the anime that worked. For one, the production team did quite a good job at setting the stage, their version of Manila as the backdrop for “Trese.” The MRT, the police station, the buildings that looked to be somewhere in Ortigas, and that electric company’s main office—all these looked perfectly like the Metro Manila we all know and love, and love to hate and love, right? It’s perfect. If I were someone not from the Philippines and I saw this image of the city, it would give me a fairly accurate idea of how Metro Manila is.

A second element that worked quite well was how local mythological creatures were featured in “Trese.” Suffice it to say that the tikbalang, the kapre, the aswang, the lamang lupa and duwende, and other Pinoy mythical creatures were interesting enough, although some had more depth than the others.

And who can forget that local peanut milk chocolate brand?

All of these definitely added a uniquely Filipino flavor to “Trese.” But if there is one thing where the anime failed to deliver, it’s in having that authentic “anime vibe.” Whenever Netflix markets an animated show as an “anime,” it’s not some random or arbitrary tag. An anime is a particular kind of animated flick, and it’s not just because it comes from Japan. There is a certain look, a certain feel to every anime show and, unfortunately, Netflix’s “Trese” didn’t quite have it. The original graphic novels by Budjette and KaJO had more of this anime-manga-esque vibe, as a matter of fact.

Alexandra’s mom, who is a babaylan in the story (Netflix)

So what happened? This isn’t necessarily a fault of the production team behind “Trese” as much as it is that of Netflix itself. If you’ve been watching most of the original titles that the streaming platform has marketed as anime, they all have one thing in common: They don’t look and feel like anime (save, perhaps, for “Castlevania”). They have this animation that is more reminiscent of ‘90s Warner Bros. cartoons most of us grew up with. This isn’t about being nitpicky over what is anime and what isn’t. It’s more about that missed opportunity to produce an original Filipino story in a style that has a greater potential to be consumed by a larger market.

If “Trese” did not follow an anime-style, then perhaps it could’ve been better for it to have a more Pinoy look. Maybe it could’ve been an opportunity to launch an animation style that’s authentically Filipino. If there’s a second season for “Trese,” then maybe it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.