“When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.”*
I first heard of Trese sometime around December of last year, but as I was busy with college-related stuff, I didn’t think much of it and eventually forgot about it… until my parents gave me gift certificates to National Bookstore for Christmas and I was free to FINALLY buy books! I spent the last of them on this whole series, a decision which, so far, I DO NOT REGRET.
Before I even started reading the graphic novels, I was already very excited. I love stories that have mythological aspects in a modern setting, and Trese promises to deliver just that. Filipino readers will be delighted to find the legendary aswang, kapre, engkantos, and several other creatures from native folklore jump straight from the page with the sharp angles of the black-and-white illustrations and dialogue that reveal their true selves as well as the side that allows them to mingle among us, unnoticed.
Trese: Murder on Balete Drive is the first book in the Trese series written by Budjette Tan and illustrated by KaJo Baldisimo. It has four cases that the protagonist, a bold young woman named Alexandra Trese, tackles with her trusty kambal bodyguards. The settings are eerily familiar, based on real roads and places within the Philippines. Case 2, Rules of the Race, stands out clearly in my mind, because the main storyline takes place in C-5, a road I pass every day to and from school. That, and the familiarity of the folklore and horror stories I grew up with as a child made reading this more interesting.
I normally don’t read supernatural stuff, and I was initially trepidated at the prospect of reading about the things that lurked around my childhood nightmares living among us now. I thought that if I read about the aswang actually surviving in the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, the forever young side of my brain will freak out and think I am no longer safe. That was not the case with this book, and with that I am glad. It’s not because the material wasn’t convincing; I was just really interested. And because of that, I am now all the more excited to read the coming books.
I really suggest everyone to take up this series and read it, but I’m afraid those unfamiliar with Philippine mythology could feel a bit lost. That said, if you read Trese, you would be able to get some information about the creatures from the stories, but if there are a lot of sources in the Internet that cover them. I was Googling “Philippine monsters” and I saw this. I am Filipino and I haven’t even heard of some of the monsters, there are so many of them. Now that I’ve read the first volume, I really must start reading the next ones!
In a nutshell…