Four years ago, Netflix had no original anime series to its name. Castlevania changed that to stunning effect, and since then the medium has absolutely flourished on the platform. Trese is the latest offering in Netflix’s increasingly refined, adult-content anime collection (available with both Filipino and English dubs). Apparently thriving off everything from Constantine-inspired unholy malevolence to the noir urban hellscape of Sin City, Trese brings traditional folklore and life to the small screen with confidence, style, and buckets upon buckets of blood.
Alexandra Trese (voiced by Liza Soberano in the Filipino dub, and Shay Mitchell in the English one) is a detective who works with the Manila police force, called in whenever crimes and violence take on decidedly otherworldly undertones. Taught how to preserve balance in both the human and non-human worlds by her father, Trese comes to realise that she is part of a deadly prophecy, and that some of her closest allies have not been entirely truthful with her. Trust is an undercurrent theme throughout the show that helps to give it an inconsistent but definitive emotional heft, especially when the focus is on the enchanting, steely-eyed protagonist.
Based on Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo’s comics of the same name, the supernatural is embedded into everyday Filipino life and features unavoidable social commentary, from the mundane (unreliable trains) to the deadly serious (police brutality). Monstrosity and horror in the name of gentrification, urbanisation, and abuse of political power are all present. They are not simply for show either; this intoxicating presence of death, horror and superstition brings the setting to life wonderfully and in blood-curdling style. To intertwine the depth of deeply-rooted folklore, religion, and historical context into something this fantastical and polished is no lean undertaking.
Even on a purely superficial level, Trese is often irresistible. This is not a show for skipping past the opening credits sequence, because it is a work of art. Crimson red dances and flashes across greyscale cityscapes and illustrations, with imagery that fully brings you into the world before the story has even begun. Manila is portrayed with wonder, but ever-present threat. The nighttime long shots of the city are beautiful to look at, but always contain pockets of darkness that almost surely contain something with murder on its mind.
The evocative nature of the show is matched by a genuine appeal to authenticity. Each creature is founded in Filipino folklore, and the storylines touch on a number of hot-button issues in a country that often finds itself the centre of controversy and violence. The vocal delivery, particularly of the spells, is given special attention, and Soberano deserves massive credit for bringing Trese to life in a way that feels unmistakably tied to the setting. This is not the only aspect of Trese’s identity that proves significant. Originally planned to be a male character by Tan and Baldisimo, the last-minute decision to have Trese be a woman gives the storyline a breath of fresh air and originality. Put simply, there are already too many brooding male heroes in the world.
The choreography and violent set pieces make for good watching, the first and final episodes standing out in this area. The action might lack the scale, dynamism and flair that really brings Castlevania to life, but it nonetheless proves thrilling, and the rendering tries to stay true to the stylistic presentation of the manga. The editing seems to suggest that, even for an 18+ rated anime, there are some things the show’s creators aren’t comfortable with you seeing (such as cannibalism). Somehow, this only makes these ‘invisible’ acts of violence or grotesque behaviour all the more shocking. Evil is presented bare-faced and unambiguous throughout most of Trese, a side-effect of which being that at times it feels like the story sacrifices depth and detail in order to retain narrative coherence. This can put partly down to the length of the first season. At just six episodes of around half an hour each, you cannot help but feel that there is so much more than these brief adventures allow you to experience.
In broad terms, Trese is a triumphantly original and polished horror-action series. Anchored by a deep-rooted reverence for its setting and a stellar lead turn from Soberano, this is one of the most enjoyable new anime entries Netflix has to offer. With more time and episodes, it can develop into something even more marvellous.
Trese is avilable to stream on Netflix now.
Words by James Hanton.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.