Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review: Trese (Cases 1 to 4)

TRESE: MURDER ON BALETE DRIVE: This franchise, as a whole, is one of the biggest miracles not just in Philippine comics, but in Philippine fiction in general.

Mainstream fiction in the Philippines has focused on horror and humour. I’m not sure whether this is because those are what the writers want to write or it just so happens that those are what the readers want to read. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that these genres dominate the bookshelves so much that it comes to the point that they overshadow others. This has led me to see these genres as formulaic. In fact, I see them as so uninspiring that I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in Philippine fiction, for it fails to expand to other themes. This disappointment could have been deeper if I haven’t discovered Trese, a comic book title by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. Even though it is in the horror category like most titles in the bookshelves, it stands out because of its quality.

Trese: Murder on Balete Drive features four introductory cases that generally take place in Manila. This first collection of Trese cases, even though it is episodic, for the cases don’t necessarily form a singular plotline, has been an effective introduction not just to the mythos of the franchise, but also to its enigmatic characters.

            From the very first case, the readers are drawn to a mystery that involves the Aswang and a White Lady. This is one of the reasons why this volume has been a successful introduction to the franchise, for it clearly shows the readers that the mythos behind it is incorporated with Philippine Mythology -- and that makes Trese all the more interesting. I think the problem with this case is that it has not been expanded much. I feel that the case has been solved prematurely. A contributing factor to this is the twenty-page limitation of the case. As a personal opinion, the case could have been better if it has covered the length of two cases. I believe that, since this is an introduction, it should have incorporated more world building elements to establish the setting. Perhaps the creators’ intent for world building is to create short and snappy cases -- that’s why the first case, as well as the other cases of the volume, has such traits.

The second case, on the other hand, is better than the first case in terms of pacing and presentation of content. It has also exploited Philippine Mythology, and there are subtle hints of historical background in some of the characters. This gives the characters some room for developing future storylines or exploring past storylines.

The creators of the franchise start to utilize subtle emotions in the third and fourth case. I must admit that the third case has been lacking in this department, for it fails to give me a sense of attachment to the characters. I’m not saying that this case is of poor quality, but I think the history behind it just lacks the characteristics to give an emotional blow. The fourth case, however, has been highly successful on delivering solemn emotions. The fact that it features an iconic comic book character has helped a lot. But this iconic character is not the sole reason why the fourth case is able to trigger emotions; the writing of Budjette Tan just proves to be effective in this case.

            In terms of writing, Trese: Murder on Balete Drive is worth admiring. The prose is very lyrical and somehow resembles the voice of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. The art style, even though I could not criticize its technical aspects, for I don’t specialize in that department, is of above average quality. The designs are unique for me, and the black and white style fits the franchise’s theme very well. But these factors are not enough to support my claim that the franchise has been a miracle for Philippine fiction. Surely, it is obvious that there is something else behind my declaration, so let me expand this in the next paragraph.

Most horror books in the Filipiniana, though they feature supernatural elements, still revolve around ordinary life. Filipino writers tend to dwell too much in realism that they have not transcended magical realism. This is why Trese stands out. It is brave enough to offer the readers something more than just magical realism. It restores my faith to Filipino writers that, some day, they would be more creative in their tales and emulate the examples of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. This hope that Trese gives me, no matter how little it is, is enough reason for me to consider this franchise as a miracle, for, I believe, that soon enough, it will be the saving grace that Philippine literature has been searching for years.

            Related posts:
            Book Review: Trese (Cases 5 to 8)
            Book Review: Trese (Cases 9 to 13)

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