Fantasy ‘aswang’ series coming to Netflix in ‘Trese’

Alexandra Trese is the supernatural detective with a deceased twin sibling.

By Wendell Gaa

Philippine folklore and mythology have captivated me for a long time.  It was in my pre-teen years when I learned about mythical creatures, such as the blood-sucking aswang, our version of the vampire, and the monstrous tikbalang, considered to be the Filipino equivalent to the half-man half-bull minotaur of Greek mythology.

These very monsters happen to be characters in “Trese,” a new dark fantasy animated series which is expected to be released for international viewing on Netflix in 2021. 

“Trese” is based on the black and white horror/crime comics series created by writer Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo.  The series chronicles the life and trials of Alexandra Trese, an enigmatic female detective who investigates crimes of a supernatural origin throughout Metro Manila.  We can anticipate Alexandra to follow the line of strong-willed, self-reliant and highly determined women protagonists in the horror-dark fantasy genre, such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  Being Filipina, she will no doubt add a unique cultural flavor to heroines of popular culture.

Together with a couple of friends of mine who have set up a podcast called “Talking Geek Weekly” which discusses various topics on popular culture, be it of the horror, fantasy, superhero or science fiction genre, we had the honor of interviewing “Trese” creator Budjette Tan. He shared with us his fascinating journey to the conception of his dark fantasy comic series. 

“Trese” represents the Philippine dark legends which both Tan and co-creator artist Kajo Baldisimo grew up with based on the stories passed on to them by their families.  Although Tan is now based in Denmark, it was clear through his narration to us that he has not forgotten all the famous Filipino mythical creatures which he heard about as a child. 

‘Trese’ creators writer Budjette Tan (right) and artist Kajo Baldisimo.

“We just really wanted to tell the stories that we grew up with, but with a different twist,” he said. “Growing up in the Philippines, we heard a lot of stories about the aswang, tikbalang, and tiyanak (demon child), even though we lived in the city, whenever we would see a mound of dirt on a street corner, or if we were passing through an open lot with a mound of dirt, I would be told you always have to say ‘Tabi Tabi Po’ (asking permission to pass through), because supposedly on that mound of dirt there would be a house of a duwende (goblin/dwarf) or nuno sa punso (mountain goblin).  Hence we were told to always ‘ask permission’ upon passing by these ‘houses’ because to do otherwise would result in us becoming seriously ill.”  

These mythical creatures which will feature prominently in “Trese” can expect to be given a tough time committing crime in Manila thanks to the relentless efforts of the series’ heroine, who is described as a modern woman with an old soul deeply attached to the supernatural underworld.  Alexandra’s favorite attire seems to be a black button-down Chinese-style trench coat.  The crime-fighting weaponry at her disposal are guns and a magical short sword with wavy edges called a Sinag, which was used by the Muslim tribe Maranaw of Mindanao. 

Like any typical comics hero, she does have a day job. She is a manager of a nightclub called The Diabolical which serves the best kapeng barako in town.  Her personal life is beset with a complex relationship with her father Anton, who used the soul of her deceased twin sibling to create the Sinag given to her. 

At a young age, it is discovered that Alexandra has psionic potential, which she uses to aid her father in investigating supernatural mysteries.  As an adult, she takes on the mantle of defending the citizens of Manila from evil forces by helping the city police.  Similar to how Batman is called upon by Commissioner Gordon in Gotham City in times of need, Alexandra is enlisted by law enforcement official Captain Guerrero to solve the city’s supernatural mysteries. 

Tan aptly described the heroine as a woman with a rather complicated background and upbringing. She is “a child of paradox and possibilities.” There is the question of whether she will bring good or bad luck to the city as she struggles with her shifting loyalties to the dark and the light. These are recurring themes throughout the series. 

The “Trese” comic series has won accolades in Manila, including the Best Graphic Literature in the 29th National Book Awards in November 2010, the Filipino Readers’ Choice Award for Comics/Graphic Novels in 2012, and the 2014 National Book Award for Best Anthology in English.  As a viewer, I am doubly excited to see how the animated world of “Trese” unfolds on Netflix next year, and to explore the character of Alexandra the supernatural detective to greater depths. 

© The FilAm 2020

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