EVEN though hospital waiting rooms have gotten a lot more comfortable than they used to be, they still aren't the best places in the world to wait. Lucky for me I had this graphic novel to keep me company. I was three chapters in when an idle orderly walked over to where I was sitting.
“Is that a manga, sir?” he asked.
“Yeah, it sure looks like it, but actually it's not,” I said as I closed the book to show him the bright orange cover, which featured the two protagonists on a stroll and most of all, the inviting title: Halina Filipina.
The man looked pleasantly surprised. “I've read the artist's other works,” I continued, “and they're all in black-and-white too. So it's like manga that way.”
Those other works by Arnold Arre I was referring to are The Mythology Class and After Eden. If you've read those works before, my suggestion to you would be to drop all expectations when going on a leisurely walk with our heroes Halina and Cris. This time around, there won't be scenes of derring-do and magic nor will there be intensely romantic drama to hit you squarely in the feels.
It's a simple story, as lovely and uncomplicated as the happy-go-lucky Halina herself – and Arre meant it that way. “I wanted it to be a no-frills relationship story, something cozy compared to my other works. No interweaving subplots here – just two people realizing their differences and falling in love despite them,” he says.
The two people he's referring two are the half-American Halina and the down-and-out yet somehow chubby film journalist Cris. The bubbly Halina's on vacation in the Philippines to get in touch with relatives she's never met before, and the destitute intellectual Cris tries to pay the rent by writing about cookie-cutter Tagalog movies he's grown to despise. And as fate (or Arre the author) would have it, they happen to meet in a place so large and chaotic, their getting to know each other is a miracle in itself. That place is none other than Metro Manila.
Those of us who've lived and worked there can probably relate to Cris, who can't help but feel grumpy and jaded for being there all his life. Thankfully we have Halina to even things out with her fresh and untainted way of seeing things. And so Cris finds himself falling in love not just with Halina, but also with the things he used to take for granted that Halina finds fascinating. Things like isaw, the movie Batch '81, and the song Torpedo by the Eraserheads.
As a reviewer, I do my best not to spoil myself before experiencing the work itself. Before opening Halina Filipina for the first time, I was thinking that perhaps our heroes would head out to other places in the Philippines as well – it turns out that most of the action takes place in Metro Manila. That's perfectly fine, but it would have been nice to see Halina and Cris go to places like Balanga or Dumaguete or Iligan to cover a short film festival or a movie shooting, or maybe even to Batanes, Bohol, or Siargao on account of Halina's modeling gig. Perhaps that'd be a good idea for a sequel (yes, things don't end badly for them – and I hope I'm not spoiling Halina by telling you that).
My own quibbles with Halina are few and not really worth mentioning here, except for one: Cris is rather chunky for the starving artist type, whereas his cocky and pretentious English-speaking, Ayala Avenue-type “rival” is as thin as a rail. Shouldn't it be the other way around? That is, unless Cris prioritizes food and beer over all other concerns, even paying the bills – but Cris isn't shown in the novel to be a glutton.
“Originally, I intended for Cris to be working in a fast food joint where, between breaks, he would write his film reviews,” says Arre about our movie critic. Cris's girth would have made more sense had he left that detail in. But don't let that get in the way of your enjoying this graphic novel. If Halina Filipina were a dish, think of it as home-cooked adobo – simple yet delectable.