Smile Down the Runway
by Lynzee Loveridge,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Smile Down the Runway ?
It's another whirlwind episode in Ikuto and Chiyuki's world of fashion but despite its breakneck pacing, we get some much needed focus on the psychological trials of the industry. "Aura" is all about how industry hopefuls present themselves professionally. In a cutthroat industry that hones in on perfection, the stakes and expectations are sky high. Chiyuki and Ikuto might be opposite sides of the same coin, but their dream to play in the fashion big leagues means they have to exemplify perfection at all times.
This is especially difficult for Chiyuki when her very physicality is seen as a flaw. Last episode we saw her try and try again to hustle herself some work only to be confronted by Kokoro, a girl who checks every box for "model" but whose aura is dark. Kokoro doesn't want to be here. Her happiness is in designing but she has the survival of an entire modeling agency riding on her success and her manager isn't about to let her show pony free. It's during this shoot that Chiyuki has to grapple with the uglier side of herself. The shoot will have everyone except Kokoro's face covered—a devastating hit for Chiyuki and the other supporting models. They have little to no chance of working the background for increased exposure if their faces are masked the whole time. Chiyuki decides to take a page from Tyra Banks and "smize" down to her hands if she has to but she catches herself getting catty.
Smile Down the Runway has shown, with mixed effectiveness, the less than glamorous aspects of the fashion industry. The Chiyuki portion of the episode hones in on how the desire to be the best can lead to stepping on others to reach to the top. Given the whole Hajime business, color me surprised that the show outright stated that being a snotty brat towards successful people is bad and acknowledged the desire to put others down to make yourself feel better. Chiyuki struggles with this continually throughout her segment as she has to justify her height, is intentionally thwarted by Kokoro's manager, and finds herself more prepared for the shoot than Kokoro herself. Of course, Chiyuki has no idea that Kokoro is being strong-armed into this career; all she sees is a girl succeeding at her dream without nearly the same amount of effort or preparedness. That's frustrating and eventually Chiyuki can't contain herself any longer when she hears Kokoro and her manager talking in the hallway and puts her whole foot in her mouth.
Poor Kokoro, too. She's not the assertive type and she gets put through the ringer in this episode, especially by her manager, Igarashi. Igarashi has a chip on her shoulder that we only get a small peek at this week. She was, for not entirely clear reasons, a model not unlike Chiyuki. She was considered "unsuitable" for the career but managed to succeed and walk for down the runway for her favorite brand. Yet, whatever means she used to achieve her dream left her unhappy. The flashback alludes that she might have resorted to some more illicit routes to ensure her success but it's not entirely clear. What we do know is that she and Shizuka (Chiyuki's manager) used to work together at Bon Rouge but Shizuka left the agency. The two women give off some not-so-subtle "did they?" vibes as they catch up over a drink and strangely, Shizuka doesn't seem particularly bothered that Igarashi has actively sabotaged her model because she's trying to "protect her" from ending up unhappy like herself. The irony is Igarashi is actively making her own model unhappy by not letting her leave the industry while simultaneously trying to force out a model that really wants to be there.
I'm interested in Igarashi's story and I hope it gets explored a bit more because up until now she just seemed like an abusive lady with a stranglehold on the more demure Kokoro. No matter what sort of hardships she's encountered, she's using a young model as an avatar for her own success and that's pretty dang shitty. Of course, Kokoro's mentor in the fashion industry is barely any better. Hajime is still an asshole who'll fire anyone who makes any kind of mistake even though he's a fashion designer relying on students to complete his work for him and by his own admission he can't even sew so, IMO, he needs to take his attitude down a couple of notches. That'd be expecting too much for a guy with his head so far up his own ass so instead Ikuto has to stand up for Kokoro while she prostrates on the floor.
Ikuto has already lined up his own escape from Hajime's death factory by signing on with Toh Ayano. He apparently hasn't informed Hajime that he'll be leaving to help Toh launch his brand at the Geika Festival. It's immediately apparent that Toh's workshop will offer his employees more space (and, potentially, much better working conditions) but Ikuto is firm that he isn't interested in being a patternmaker for Toh's designs; he wants to make his own creations, too. First, he'll need to make it past the second round of Geika's competition. This time they'll be asked to create a design that's given to them, essentially patternmaking. Kokoro and Ikuto succeed entirely off screen, leading them both to the final round where they will have to create a design centered on the hiragana for "Wa." But wait—Ikuto's mom is going in for emergency surgery?!
This was another jam-packed episode. I appreciated the focus on Chiyuki, Kokoro, and Igarashi's inner struggles but am less enthused with approach to Ikuto's competition. It started as the fashion version of the typical shōnen competition arc only to become a weird sort of window dressing with continually evaporating stakes. The second round literally doesn't happen and while pattern making might be considered less interesting than designing, it's important. It's the process of translating an idea into a functional reality and I feel like its important that the audience knows whether our primary characters actually have those skills or not. If Ikuto just breezed through it, should we assume he's an exceptional patternmaker?
Also if I'm being honest, it feels like the entire sequence of Hajime berating Kokoro was unnecessary. This show has had balance issues with its pacing and emotional focus with additional developments included for little more than drama's sake. Currently Ikuto is in the middle of a fashion competition that includes prize money and a trip, working in a studio, planning to leave that studio to help a student launch a major brand, and about to be hit with horrible news about his mother's health. I feel like that should have been scaled back by at least one thing?
Smile Down the Runway is currently streaming on Funimation.
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