TRESE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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TRESE Review

Recently arriving on Netflix, Alexander Wallace reviews the first season of Trese.
I don’t mention it much on the internet, but I am half Filipino. I have noticed over the course of my life that Filipinos, in that humid archipelago or in the diaspora, don’t have much of a presence in Hollywood or frankly much anywhere else. It surprises me somewhat, given how the country was under American colonial rule for forty years (“four hundred years in a convent and forty years in a whorehouse,” as my mother taught me), that there are very few impressions of Filipinos in American media, especially given how America fought tooth and nail for the country in World War II. The only Filipino media I had partaken in were two war movies about the Philippine-American War (Heneral Luna and Goyo: the Boy General), both quite enjoyable, and so I was quite interested to hear of Trese, an ‘anime’ from the Philippines premiering on Netflix.

Watching solely the first episode (out of six, each running about half an hour) surprised me: I actually got to hear in a television show an accent that I had thus far only heard at family reunions. I’ve never actually been to the Philippines (I’ve spent the majority of my life in Northern Virginia), but I can vouch that there very much is an accent, and that the accent of many background characters is authentic (it helps that my mother grew up partially in Manila). This becomes jarring, though, when you realize that such accents are restricted to the background characters; most of the main characters, the protagonist in particular, have North American accents. Maybe I’m just used to Filipino accents, but I don’t see how it would have been an issue if the particular sounds of Tagalog were in the English dub.
Otherwise, though, the protagonist, Alexandra Trese, is the standout of the show. Voiced by Shay Mitchell in the English dub, she is an investigator of supernatural occurrences in Manila, where she regularly works with the police in solving these crimes. She is also haunted by a past involving the occult and her family; she comes from a bloodline influential in the Manila underworld.

It is the city of Manila that takes center stage; one that I am quite interested in seeing onscreen. This is a city crawling with the strange and the unreal, but also with the frustratingly human things that happen everywhere. The plots of these episodes sometimes veer into quite biting social commentary, the most hard-hitting being one on celebrity culture and misogyny (easily the best episode of the season).

But ultimately, Trese is undone by the fact it simply needed more time in the oven. Maybe this is because I haven’t read the komik (the general term for Filipino comics) upon which the series is based, but so many aspects of this show struck me as underdeveloped. The only two really interesting regular characters are Alexandra and the police chief Guerrero (voiced by Matt Yang King in the English dub); everyone else, with the exception of a few that show up in single episodes, is a cardboard cutout. The relationships hinted at are tantalizing, but they are never fleshed out in enough detail to become truly satisfying.
Overall, I was mildly disappointed with Trese; it’s a show that needed maybe ten episodes to really tell the story it wanted to tell. That being said, it’s not bad by any means, and if it heralds more Filipino media coming to the Western mainstream, I’m certainly happy with that. I just wish that it could have cooked a little more so that it could be truly satisfying. Trese hints at better coming, but it’s just that: coming.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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