The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel - Northern War is a war-themed adventure anime based on the Trails video game series. It tells the story of Lavian Winslet, a rookie in the Northern Jaeger regiment, and her involvement in the war between the Northern Ambria State and the Erebonian Empire. The first episode, "He Appears... The Hero in Twilight," serves as an introduction to an exciting fantastical world of the effects of war and the struggle for revolution.
The combination of magic and industrial arms is reminiscent of Final Fantasy VI's world-building. It even feels similar to Final Fantasy's Terra, Biggs, and Wedge with the introduction of Lavi, the protagonist, and her two counterparts Tak and Ivano. Lavi appears to be a stoic, reserved, and highly skilled soldier at first glance, despite his rookie rank. She is later revealed to be the granddaughter of the great Ambria Hero, Vlad Winslet, and her abilities are most likely due to her upbringing and blood relation. That is just one of the numerous plot points packed into the first episode.
The Issue With So Much Exposure
When introducing a new world, it is critical to establish certain elements that comprise the setting as well as themes for the audience to follow. Too little, and the audience loses track of what is actually happening; too much, and the audience becomes confused about who, what, and why. The story quickly shifts to the present after a brief implication of Lavi experiencing trauma as a child as a result of the conflict. This brief flash of characterization is ideal for establishing the hero's backstory for later investigation. However, the first half of the episode quickly devolved into a lengthy explanation scene.
An entire history of the Northern Jaegers, radical heroes striving for greatness, the number of soldiers in certain areas and regiments, a series of names and conflicts are all mentioned in passing in a conversation between two characters, Tak and Ivano. This is in addition to the soldiers fighting monsters. What is actually important during the scene is the implied information, such as why such a large group of soldiers is guarding alleged civilian supplies, as well as a brief look inside one of the vehicles. However, with so much exposition piled on top, the beginning was clumsy and overburdened.
Storytelling Benefits from Streamlining Plot Points
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel suffered from the adage "show, don't tell." However, when creating a world that many people may be unfamiliar with, the first episode can be given some leeway. Certain points of information were unnecessary in the first half, and others could have easily been revealed through visual means or over time. The world is fascinating and beautiful, with the potential to become a wondrous character-driven experience, and its history is an important factor in what is happening now, almost a cycle of history theme. The second half of the episode excelled in offering a moment of respite, to then build a feeling of genuine intrigue and tension through the interaction of Lavi and Rogan -- subtle, but powerful.
Even with so much information crammed into the first episode, the world's baseline is established. The world in which Lavi lives is one of conflict between humans and monsters, and while the monsters are certainly a threat, the story's main focus is on the conflict between nations. With so much of the world being explored so quickly, it will be critical to give the characters more time as the story progresses, allowing audiences to connect with Lavi and, hopefully, reveal her past and motivations through the narrative.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel - Northern War is now streaming on Crunchyroll.