Smile Down the Runway: A Lot of Average Material Joined Together

Expectations Walking In

Anime series are things where you can easily look into worlds that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I mean, they come from the lens of someone else right? The original mangaka had a vision and this production team took that vision and made their own vision into an anime series. Smile Down the Runway is a look into the world of fashion and I wanted to get at least some kind of idea about the world of fashion. The production of outfits that people wear on runways and the models themselves. That is a world that you won’t see on television in runway shows.

So this is the more teenage version of that with teenagers being stuck in different situations and why they can’t just immediately jump into success. Well, for the most part because some of this series is kind of BS. I will get to that. But for now, the idea of the show is people who don’t fit into the stereotypical standards of the fashion industry. A model who is considered too short to go on the runway and a fashion designer that is too poor to get the education for it despite the talent he contains in his head and his hands. That is where this show starts and it’s a very good start with a great hook to get you into it. Where can it go wrong?

The Tale of the Runway

This is a poor, high school boy named Ikuto who wants to be a fashion designer. He has that sort of eye for fashion and a hidden talent waiting to burst outside of it. Too bad his mother is in the hospital and three sisters of various ages are struggling to find their own direction in life. Especially since nothing is working for any of them. So what happens? He runs into a model wanna be, even if she is too short for it, and designs her an outfit. An outfit that actively gives her attention and a place at a model agency that continually refused her because of her height. She is also the daughter of the person who owns that agency.

So that is basically the story. The two of them meeting puts things into motion that wouldn’t have otherwise. Suddenly, Ikuto is given a chance to work part time at a small design outlet. ONe which he shows his worth by fixing the dress Chiyuki is too short to wear in 15 minutes during a runway event. The first outfit was the opening and the second outfit is the call to show he has a place in the fashion world. Too bad Chiyuki is having a hard time because she is still too short to be accepted by anyone. It’s not her lack of talent, just her physical limits she can’t change so she has to work hard to prove herself in any capacity she can. Once again, great material. 

All of that is a pretty decent set up. The whole anime series really gains some sense of momentum when it focuses on the design tournament at Geika Academy. This is when the tension kind of builds up and the cast expands while also giving Ikuto and Chiyuki to really show what they can do and who they can become in the future. It is a good idea like a lot of tournaments like that. You can see why they work for sports anime because it not only simplifies the plot, it allows characters to face their passion against other people who are also passionate about what they are doing. Except, this tournament is such a rushed mess.

What Competition?

I’m sorry, but I really should have just said what competition? We barely see any of it. Only the first round where Ikuto competed against other characters by designing pajamas won everyone over enough for him to be in third place. That automatically means that he makes it to the final round which is completely insane. Why would someone who made a miniature of good looking clothes just make it to the final round without proving that they can at least produce that outfit in a real size? This is so half assed that it lessened my impression of this show.

It also hurts to see the quick introduction to these new characters be around to not do much or learn anything about them at all. Toh Asano, for instance, is a good antagonist right? He is a star at Geika academy and is so far ahead of everyone that he is competing against his grandmother, a professional designer. He also sees potential in Ikuto to work for him for money instead of Ikuto doing his own fashion career. He is great at being this force of change and interest and in the end, he just does that by loving through his own goals. 

Sure, the drama from that competition is replaced by his mother in the hospital and Ikuto needing to acquire money for his mother’s operation. Sure, that is harrowing stuff for a poor family barely making it by to pay for an expensive surgery. Except that gets resolved pretty quickly from the outfit Ikuto produced in the first episode being sold after creating that awkward sort of tension lingering from everyone else trying to get him to do what they want instead of him doing what he wanted. The drama was there, but that medical bill drama didn’t linger enough to have any major impact in the story for me at least. 

I can keep going. The whole show itself ends with the finale of this competition and you don’t see any of the clothing Ikuto designers or works on before it. Sure, Ikuto shows his ten designs based on different countries with a good theme of combining masculine and feminine clothing, but you don’t see anything other than the beginning stages. On the other hand, Chiyuki working with Kokoro, a natural model who wants to be a designer, on clothing and pushing each other forward while making and designing the clothes was excellent stuff. I wanted to see more of that in this show because that is the concept behind this show after all. 

Kokoro Is The Most Interesting Character

The main problem that I have for this show is everyone is so one note. For example, Chiyuki wants to be a model and that is one of two parts of her personality that we see. She puts everything into becoming one and motivates Ikuto or anyone else struggling to to move forward in his pursuit of becoming a fashion designer. That’s about it and while that is her role and her pursuit, so we see her passion, even her off time is dedicated to becoming a model. She walks around her house in high heels to practice the walk and even trains her body while watching television with Ikuto. It’s generally fine for the story in the anime, but it doesn’t make her interesting. 

Ikuto is slightly better than that because his situation is seeming desperate until it isn’t. He really does get by on his talent that has opened a lot of doors for him. Not only his family needs, but opening the door to him, gaining some kind of opportunity to move forward even if he isn’t what he wanted at first. The one money episode was the singular moment when he had real tension in the show for his situation and as I said, it got resolved. Now he has the freedom to do what he wants. There is almost a Marty Sue quality for him, gaining some sort of attention and appreciation really quickly. Not completely because experience matters, but in the moments when he gets highlights feel so much stronger until the show finds a middle ground to roll his enthusiasm back a bit while still giving it to him. That isn’t a style of storytelling that I enjoy.

Kokoro feels like the character that has so much more stakes and you can see a bit more out of here. Which is strange because she is a character that has good bits of wants and desires against the whole cost of what she would naturally be good at because she wants her story. She even has a lot of the themes of the story revolve around her too. Kokoro worked her heart out to be a fashion designer and then was forced by her manager to be a model instead at the expense of everything that made Kokoro happy really had the most weight in the entire show. Kokoro and Chiyuki working together to win the Geia competition in the end was the most cathartic because of that. I feel Kokoro’s increased prominence in the show saved a lot of it for me. 

What I Wanted Out Of This Show

In the end of the day, this show feels like a lot of good ideas put together haphazardly with some forward momentum attached to it. I feel like there was way too much of it which forced a lot of characters to be railroaded in specific ways to make them less interesting. That is where my character problems came around. I wanted a show that focused on the designing of fashion a bit more too. We just see that Ikuto has an eye for fashion and can learn about certain ways to cut fabric one time. Then that was it. There was a good focus on the height and body particulars of models in this series, but that was because the show pounded into the ground every moment Chiyuki was on screen because that is her one problem.

Then it didn’t help that the visual presentation only kind of showed the fashion on display. Ok, that isn’t fair because there are a lot of designs. They just didn’t move like fabric at all. There is a lot of stiffness in a lot of its presentation that didn’t elevate a lot of what the show was going for in any sort of meaningful way I think. But the show is more than watchable and I did find myself rooting for Ikuto, Chiyuki, and Kokoro to find their dreams. It was very effective at doing that and getting me excited for what could happen after this competition. There was a lot of good motivation and momentum for these characters to move forward. So in general, it’s still a decent show in general. I just feel like it missed out on a lot of things that could have made it better.

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