A panel all about the Filipino horror comic series, Trese, is one of many available for VOD through this year’s Anime Expo Lite. Moderated by Megan Peters of Comicbook.com, the conversation brought together comic writer Budjette Tan, artist KaJO Baldisimo, Ablaze Publishing co-founder Rich Young, and executive producer and showrunner of Netflix’s anime adaptation, Jay Oliva, to discuss everything about this beloved story of a badass investigator and her adventures surrounding the supernatural creatures of Filipino folklore.
For Tan and Baldisimo, their collaborative efforts date back a few decades, but it wasn’t until Trese that they knew they had something special. While working full-time at ad agencies, Baldisimo approached Tan with an idea: create a monthly comic book. Although initially hesitant at the idea, Tan eventually went with a script about a character he had been wanting to write about for a while, Anton Trese. Baldisimo was quick to churn out illustrations on his end. But when Tan thought about all the tough guy characters that have been in so many of these kinds of stories before, he approached Baldisimo with an idea of his own: What if Trese was a woman instead? Baldisimo’s answer: “That would make her so bad-ass!”
Trese is a beloved series in the Philippines, as Tan explained how readers tend to identify her in marching to the beat of her own drum, while still carrying on a family tradition. As he elaborated, “We’re beginning to see more and more what is she willing to do to fulfill her responsibility to the family, but at the same time, be able to put her own mark on how she does things.”
Although Trese is not a manga, Tan and Baldisimo did touch on how aspects of the story were born from inspiration from both manga and even Asian American icon, Bruce Lee. Baldisimo noted how he was very into Ghost in the Shell at the time of the series’ creation, and Tan explained how Lee’s Green Hornet character, Kato, is what inspired the Kambal.
Trese could only be purchased from the Philippines up until this last year, when Ablaze Publishing acquired international distribution rights to it. Co-founder Young explained how the series first came to his attention in early 2019, when it was announced to be adapted for Netflix’s slate of original anime programs. He reached out to Tan and was blown away by the material.
Having grown up on anime and manga, Young saw the comics as a split between manga and American-style comics. “It’s a marriage of the two that I’ve never seen before, and it really blew me away when [Tan] started sending all the PDFs,” he said. “It kind of became a no brainer after looking over all the material.”
At the time the panel was recorded, Oliva had yet to receive a copy of the international edition of the first book, Murder on Balete Drive. Not knowing that the illustrations were updated, it would explain why Trese can be seen carrying around a Nokia instead of a smart phone in Netflix’s anime adaptation.
Speaking of which, Oliva was not familiar with the comics prior to being contacted about coming aboard for the show’s production. However, he was very interested when he learned that it would be based on a Filipino property.
“My first thought was, ‘Am I getting this job because I’m Filipino?'” he recalled. “But then I was like, ‘I’ve never gotten a job offer before because I’m Filipino, so I’m going to roll with it.'”
Oliva read the PDFs from Tan while on a 15-hour flight to Manila to work on the show, and upon arrival, was given a tour of some of the most haunted places of the city. He came bursting with ideas to the creative team, going off of what he read in the comics, which he found to be such a fresh take on Filipino mythology.
“Being Filipino and not really knowing much about the comic, but knowing the background of the stories — all the stories about the tiyanak, the dwende, and all of the tikbalangs, for example – those are all things my parents told me [about] as a kid,” he said.
Oliva was so amazed by the comics, that the black-and-white openings for each of the episodes after the first one are homages to it; where if a viewer were to watch those alone, they become their own episode. He also was very determined on making the city of Manila part of the story to keep authenticity to it and had the actors not hide their heritage by having the Filipino accent be heard throughout the show.
“Across the board, all the actors, they embraced the fact that they didn’t have to hide their heritage and that really meant something to me,” he reflected.
Oliva is hoping for a second season to get approved by Netflix, especially since he has the ground work set to do a total of four, in an effort to both follow and expand on the comics.
As for the comics themselves, aside from reformatting them for international distribution, Tan and Baldisimo are currently working on the eighth book of the series and are aiming to conclude it by the 13th one.
The Trese Anime Panel, as well as Anime Expo Lite’s other VOD panels, will be available to stream until Friday, July 16.