Regarding genre combinations, “vampire” and “Class S” may not be the most obvious pairings, but they work surprisingly well in Aya Haruhana‘s Kiss the Scars of the Girls. It takes the trappings of classic Class S yuri – the isolated girls’ school with deeply rooted traditions – and gives the typical “sisterhood” bond a reason to exist by making all its students vampires. Therefore, the older sister in the pairing is tasked with teaching the younger how to feed from humans without getting caught or killing their prey. It doesn’t always sit nicely beside the other proscribed rituals of the Class S story, such as tea parties and other Victorian trappings. However, having such a grounded reason for the sister bond to exist essentially negates those issues.
The main couple in this volume are Emille and Eve. The book opens with Emille turning fourteen, meaning it’s time for her to move out of the dorm room she shares with agemate Yucca and into a new double with Eve. Emille is giddy with excitement, but Yucca is much more reserved – as is Eve. We don’t fully understand either Eve’s or Yucca’s reasons for their feelings at first, but Eve certainly has a reputation around the school. Rumors have it that she’s a bully who has failed at the sisterhood program before, and at first, it certainly looks like there might be some truth there. She tries to prevent Emille from moving in with her and then largely ignores her when she insists. This saddens Emille, but generally undeterred, barring one moment when she’s ready to give up and return to her old room. Eventually, Eve is reluctantly forced into doing her job as Emille’s guide to the intricacies of drinking human blood, and that’s where things take a turn – not because the experience is fulfilling, but because a vampire hunter nearly kills Eve.
From this point on, the story takes on a darker tone, and it does the book many favors. That’s not to say that it needs to be dark (or grimdark, which it’s thus far largely avoiding), but rather that it jolts the reader away from more comfortable assumptions about the story. The vampires aren’t just a way for Haruhana to distinguish her work from other series; they’re an actual plot point just as important as the yuri. The school’s remote location means it’s only near (as far as we know) one small human town, meaning all the girls are feeding from a relatively small pool. The implication is that this makes them uniquely vulnerable to vampire hunters, which begins to change the question of Eve’s attitude from “What is her problem?” to “What happened to her in the past?”
That question doesn’t feel too difficult to answer as the book progresses, but it remains a bit of a mystery regarding how it fits in with the overarching plot. Yucca’s fourteenth birthday and her sister’s bond with Shiki contribute to this, not because it raises doubts about Eve’s past experiences but because it makes us ask how frequently tragedies happen to the students. We only see two adults in the entire volume, and of them, the school nurse is the sole grown-up to get any development. She’s still much less concerned than you might expect with what is brought to her clinic, and the lack of both consternation on her part and the information that the younger girls are given is troubling. Is the school involved, or do they not care? There’s room for suspicion that someone may be using the school to cull the vampiric students or at least that the administration is invested in something other than the care and well-being of their students.
The yuri portion of the story is mostly caught up in the idea of yearning. Yucca has clear feelings for Emille, and their friend Violetta may as well, and Eve’s reluctance to finalize her bond with Emille only makes the younger girl more determined to get close to her. Eve’s insistence that Emille isn’t her sister can also be read through a romance lens. However, the implication of the sisterhood bond isn’t one of sibling love, so Eve could also be seen as refusing to fall for Emille based on her own experiences. Little touches and longing gaze drive the romance, lending it an air of forbidden love, although no one ever says anything that suggests that romance between girls is something to be outgrown, as many older Class S titles do. It feels like a modern take on the subgenre.
Haruhana’s art is a definite attraction as well. Polished and detailed, it makes it easy to tell all the characters apart and gives a sense of a nebulous setting. Uniforms look very mid-century, the town seems more nineteenth-century, and the school nurse dresses like a modern woman, creating a time-out-of-time feel that works. The art is on the dark side, which again helps with the story; even though the plot doesn’t get grim until chapter four, the art hints at things long before the plot gets to that point.
Kiss the Scars of the Girls is an unlikely combination of genres that works. There’s more going on at the school and in the town than anyone knows, even Eve, who may have her suspicions. With its combination of a dark story and yearning romance, this is an exciting treat for Class S yuri fans and one worth checking out for all yuri readers.