Of mythical creatures, magic, and horror stories

Filipino graphic novel Trese debuts as a Netflix animated series

BUDJETTE Tan and Kajo Baldisimo were busy working mostly overtime in the advertising industry in 2005. It was also the time when Mr. Baldisimo pitched to Mr. Tan via text message the idea of creating a 20-page monthly comic book with him.

“Since we both worked in the hectic and overtime-driven world of advertising, I told him it would be impossible for us to do such a thing. But he convinced me to do one issue. We said we’d do it for the fun of it, to just have fun writing and drawing this comic book, with no expectation if it’ll sell or not,” Mr. Tan said in a statement.

“And after we finished the first issue, Kajo asked me, ‘Okay, what’s the next story?’ And we just kept on going from there,” recalled Mr. Tan, who would write the stories while Mr. Baldisimo would illustrate them.

That is how Trese was born.

Trese — the black and white, English language Philippine graphic novel of urban legends and scary creatures told through the lens of a detective story and a police procedural —  has been made into a Netflix Original Anime series which premiers today.

Trese follows detective Alexandra Trese, who solves supernatural crimes which are often connected with creatures from Philippine folklore. The stories are set in modern-day Manila where these mythical creatures live, hiding amongst humans. Detective Trese finds herself going head-to-head with a criminal underworld — literally.

“We wanted to make something that was uniquely Filipino, and just using Kajo’s style as a springboard just came naturally,” Trese director and showrunner Jay Oliva said during an online press conference on June 8 held via Zoom. “One of the things we wanted to make sure is that all the characters, even down to the incidental characters, all look like Filipinos.”

The biggest challenge, Mr. Oliva said, was figuring out Alexandra Trese’s hairstyle. “We were trying to get it right and we finally settled on that bob look.”

THE COURAGEOUS DETECTIVE
Filipino actress Liza Soberano is the voice Alexandra Trese in the Filipino language version of the series.

“I’ve always wanted to portray someone that is a superhero. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to push through before with Darna. So, when this was offered to me, maybe this is, in a way, kind of like a replacement for what I wasn’t able to do before,” Ms. Soberano said in a separate online press conference on June 3 via Zoom.

“She is a very brave and badass chick,” Ms. Soberano said of her character. “It’s very cool to see a female like that, because most of the times we see male detectives, and we always see these amazing male superheroes. But nowadays, there [is] more representation for women, and good symbols or characters that represent how strong-willed women are, and how courageous we are as well.”

When Ms. Soberano accepted the voice acting role, she prepared by practicing her Filipino, doing research on YouTube on voice acting, and training with a voice coach Rudolf Baldonado, Jr. who is also the series’ Filipino language voice artist director.

“He kind of guided me through the whole process and helped me give life to the character,” she said.

GETTING A GLOBAL PLATFORM
In Trese’s six episodes, the audience will meet mythical creatures such the tikbalang (a shapeshifting giant bipedal horse), the kapre (a giant that lives in trees), the anito/diwata (nature spirits), and the tiyanak (a demon who appears as a newborn baby). They will also encounter the pre-colonial Philippine system of writing called baybayin, and kulam or black magic.

The series’ writer and executive producer Tanya Yuson described the show as noir.

“In this format of a police procedural […] which is a very western kind of structure, this is something that audiences, both in the Philippines and abroad, could probably connect to,” Ms. Yuson said.

Mr. Oliva focuses on themes about family and duty for the animated series.

“This is going to be a separate thing from the comics,” Mr. Oliva said. “It’s going to exist on its own.”

“But at the same time, it’s going to, hopefully, please the fans, bring in new audiences. The main thing is to spread the culture of the Philippines and show the pride of where my family is from,” he added.

Aside from Ms. Soberano, the Filipino voice cast includes Simon dela Cruz (as Crispin and Basilio), Apollo Abraham (Captain Guerrero), Christopher Carlo Caling (Hank), Christian Velarde (Nuno), and Eugene Adalia (Anton Trese). Rudolf Baldonado directed the local voice talents.

Meanwhile, the series’ English language voice cast includes Shay Mitchell (YOU, Pretty Little Liars) as the voice of Alexandra Trese; Darren Criss (The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Glee), Jon Jon Briones (Ratched), Nicole Scherzinger (Moana), Manny Jacinto (The Good Place), Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba), and Dante Basco (Avatar: The Last Airbender).

Filipino band UDD composed the animated series’ official soundtrack, “Paagi,” with lyrics by Armi Millare and Paul Yap.

The comics’ co-creator Mr. Tan is excited for global audiences to discover Philippine folklore and meet the mythical creatures. “I just hope that when they see it, they go, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that before,’” he said.

“It would be great to reach a point where the animé is so big, someone will come to us and say, ‘This will make a great comic book’,” Mr. Tan joked. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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