Witcher fans came to know and love aged Uncle Vesemir as Geralt of Rivia's world-weary Master Witcher, but in anime movie The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, which releases on Netflix on August 23, we see a different version.
Young and lusting after gold, Vesemir takes only the most lucrative contracts and even swindles a few individuals to have as much coin tossed at him as he can. He appears cavalier and unfeeling towards humans—children included—and would seemingly rather do anything else than train the next generation of Witchers.
Witchers, as folk might tell you, are often cold, heartless and brutal. Considered mutants by most of society, they gained a poor reputation due to corruption on the part of some Witchers, and many considered them useless—bordering on a menace—as monster populations decline. Often taken against their will, boys are subjected to the Trial of the Grasses, of which few survive. Geralt of Rivia's story is one such tale, but in Nightmare of the Wolf, the story focuses on Vesemir's youth, how he became a Witcher and how the craft came under threat from within.
Though if you're looking forward to the second season of the Gearlt-focused live action Witcher show on Netflix, it's perhaps notable that Nightmare of the Wolf was produced by the same showrunner, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.
A young boy in servitude, Vesemir steals some blue gum to help the noblewomen whom he served. An impressive Skelligan Witcher, Deglan, intervenes and demands to be taken to the noblewoman to cure her of her ills, as he believes she is possessed by a monster. Vesemir is enthralled by Deglan's prowess with magic, potions and swords, as well as the impressive pouch of coin he receives for his work. It's then that Vesemir decides to walk the Path rather than remain a servant; a fate few boys would choose for themselves. Vesemir outlives several of his counterparts through various tests and ultimately becomes one of the most famous—or infamous—Witchers alive.
Nightmare of the Wolf focuses on a strange new monster terrorising Ard Carraigh. What appears to be a Leshen, its attacks are brutal and unforgiving; women and children aren't spared, and elven girls seem to be going missing by the dozen. Only, Leshen's don't speak, and this one is speaking an ancient elven language. This is no ordinary monster our dashing Witcher is up against and it doesn't seem to be one who journeyed through the Conjunction of the Spheres, either.
We meet Vesemir's young love interest, Illyana, and Tetra Gilcrest, the court sorceress, two key characters. While Illyana appears visibly older in years, she and Vesemir are the same age and rekindle their lost romance after the death of her husband, Lord Zerbst. While she is in support of the Witchers remaining in Kaedwen, Tetra is sure they are somehow behind the increased monster attacks, despite being monster hunters for hire. As is common in the books, show and games, women hold unique positions of power in the Witcher universe and these two are no different. Tetra was part of the cleansing of elves, and Illyana holds sway with the King, and represent the two world views of the Witcher: one where they can live in peace among humans, and the other where they are eradicated.
The anime style of Nightmare of the Wolf fits the tone of the film perfectly. The swordplay is absolutely beautiful to watch, and potently violent. Even the wonderful and obligatory Witcher bathtub scene looks terrific in this style—Daddy Vesemir gives Bathtub Geralt a run for his money. If you don't regularly watch anime, don't be put off by the visuals—this isn't a nice cartoony story about Witchers. It's just as brutal, sanguinary and morally grey as every other medium Witcher stories have been told with, with a few well-timed one-liners thrown in for good measure.
Illusion is at the heart of the story, with Chaos magic being exactly that—a disastrous, chaotic mess. As with all good stories, there's romance, power imbalances, betrayal and loss, all tied together with a trembling wolf medallion. Do yourself a favour and watch it when it appears on Netflix.