The conditions under which Alexandra lived, grew up and struggled have molded her character but it is also in this context that mythical creatures are enabled to rouse the viewer’s consciousness about the current state of Philippine society. Undeniably, Trese is rich in contemporary social realities that resonate with ordinary Filipinos.
By YANNI ROXAS
So much has been written about Trese by now that it no longer seems exciting to rave about how this first Filipino animated series through Netflix has brought into the world’s gaze the mythical monsters of our youth – the aswang, tikbalang, nuno sa punso, santelmo, talagbusao, etc. Why, even the White Lady of the Green Balete Tree was primed for a successful debut on an international stage.
Six episodes, season one, and netizens were hooked despite the controversy over Liza Soberano’s voice (but Alexandra, played by Soberano, was meant to be cold and unemotional, said the writer).
Budjette Tan, the writer, and illustrator Kajo Baldisimo made Trese a comic book in 2005 but never became a household name for many Filipinos. It had its own share of fans, though, who were simply delighted when the comics crossed over to the streaming platform in 2021 and exploded in neon colors, magical energy and fantasy in scenes bursting with violence, horrors, and gore. Now almost everyone is talking about Trese.
The feminists in our midst have reason to celebrate the entrance of Alexandra as a no-nonsense heroine, cool, feisty and focused, and ready to slay monsters with her knife in the flick of an eye. If the Chinese have their legendary warrior Mulan and the Vietnamese have their lone warrior Raya (of the Last Dragon), the Filipinos have their mandirigmang babaylan by the name of Alexandra who can navigate unscathed the dangerous world of the natural and supernatural and keep, as enforcer of accords, the balance of both worlds — all for the love of family, homeland or country. That Alexandra’s two assistants, the twin Basilio and Crispin, are male pays homage to gender-fairness and women empowerment.
Alexandra, though, is not empowered or steeled without a price. Through flashbacks she suffers the torture of seeing her domicile attacked by criminal creatures, by her mother’s disappearance, by the weight of her father’s legacy, and by the constant battles she has to wage and muster. The conditions under which she lived, grew up and struggled have molded her character but it is also in this context that mythical creatures are enabled to rouse the viewer’s consciousness about the current state of Philippine society. Undeniably, Trese is rich in contemporary social realities that resonate with ordinary Filipinos.
For example, the battle between the natural and supernatural could translate into the battle between the weak and the powerful. But the weak is also quick to rely on a hero in times of adversity as Alexandra and her team are called upon to solve cases of oppression or injustice, be it theft, robbery or murder — the word “nanlaban” brings home memories. Even among humans, monstrosity is displayed by a corrupt politician lying brazenly and razing down poor communities or the police exercising brutality.
Likewise, among monsters, conflict is never alien as ghoulish criminals race for more power and supremacy. The fight among the powerful is more brutal as they have more skills and tools to inflict damage upon each other, and the stakes are far greater.
But the viewer can be so caught up in the thrill and excitement of the visual aesthetics as it works on our fears — with creepy beings on a roll, showing their fangs and bloody intensity, though at times staging cuteness, humor and sensuality – that the hidden messages could be lost. Too many images or symbols are dropped such that one has to go back to the story to explore what’s lurking behind the metaphors and allusions.
The realist vibe that Trese brings is set right off the start by the MRT train being derailed (so, so familiar), the shady streets of Quiapo, the New Bilibid prison, even the Meralco building and ABS-CBN (renamed ABC-ZNN). The spectacular Manila skyline is a stark contrast to the dark and gloomy alleys of the city that seem to await violent confrontations between Alexandra and malevolent creatures, whether in natural or supernatural form, resulting in gory scenes.
But the conflict too can turn inward, as in the last episode where Alexandra confronts her own personal demons. However, no matter the deceit, manipulation and lies thrown at her feet, she remained steadfast, unwavering in her loyalty to family, a family she defines not even by blood but a bond with humans and creatures borne out of a common struggle to keep the peace of the two worlds.
Where fate leads Alexandra will always keep Pinoy fans at the edge of their seat. The next season is keenly awaited. Trese is not only awesome and exciting but it’s story, though complex, reveals simple truths and hits hard.