This Week in Anime
Can Smile Down the Runway Make It Work?

by Nick Dupree & Andy Pfeiffer,

Ikuto is a poor kid with a bad haircut and big dreams of debuting his designs on the high fashion runway. Chiyuki was born with all the promise in the world to be a top model but has to prove that drive and dedication mean more than centimeters. The shōnen formula takes on the fashion industry in Smile Down the Runway!

You can read our Daily Streaming reviews of Smile Down the Runway here!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Andy
Up until three weeks ago I'd never seen any Project Runway, and then ended up binging an entire season of it once my girlfriend discovered this fact, and all I can say now is that I cannot wait for anime Tim Gunn to show up and let us know who has earned the right to be the true main character.
Nick
You'd think the answer to that quandary would be obvious, but Smile Down the Runway kind of pulled a fast one on us after its premiere. Going by ep 1 you'd expect it was 100% about this aspiring fashion model who was tragically struck with Micchy Disease at a young age.
My very first thought was "Oh it's fashion Haikyu!!" and turns out she's pretty damn close to Hinata's height. And then it turned into a horror movie.
Being short is a curse no human was meant to bear, and we must weep and support the smolest of us to keep their spirits higher than their foreheads.
Or alternatively you can dunk on them because they make really good faces when you do.
That's also an option! And at least in the first episode Chiyuki is definitely dunkable.

Since while she's definitely an underdog as a model it's hard to get TOO sad for her when she's still a well-off teenager with more built in connections than 90% of her competition. Which is why the show smartly gives her a foil in this skittish purple child and his awful haircut.
He's just a poor boy from a poor family. So spare him his life of helping raise 3 sisters while his mom suffers from Anime Mom Disease.

Ikuto got struck with like 3 separate sad anime backstories but manages to stay precious. That's what being voiced by Natsuki Hanae will do I guess. But between him and Chiyuki, you have a pretty solid tandem for a pair of shonen sport- er, fashion rivals, even if they aren't strictly competing with each other. Ikuto's from the new school of shonen leads as a sensitive and earnest ball of anxiety, while Chiyuki is the super determined under dog who takes every challenge as a chance to show off.
Turns out her insistence to not wear a no-name accidentally thrusts this anxious mess directly into the world of his dreams and nightmares, as he is able to showcase one of the things that sets her apart from a stock model, her inherent manliness.

And thus she gets to dress like she's working the Velvet Room, which of course goes viral because everyone loves Persona.
It's a pretty classic setup honestly. Underdog no name comes out of nowhere and goes viral with a seeming fluke so they can MAKE THEIR PRESENCE KNOWN on the scene and shake things up. It's Carole & Tuesday but with slightly less horrible industry corruption.
And only slightly better parenting!

I gotta give that Chiyuki's dad is pretty firm on not letting nepotism be a factor, but maybe when you name your company after your child, raise her to be a model from a young age, and then when her early growth spurt stops spend the rest of her life telling her she's a failure who will never achieve her dream you might have some bad priorities.
Every person of authority in this show seems to think "helping" means "crushing a teenager's dreams into dust" to keep them from hurting themselves. It uh, does not go well. Ever.
It sure is a theme! And the amount of ways it is hammered in is impressive and horrifying, especially for Kokoro. And it's not exactly too exaggerated. While the show rightfully uses these kind of horror shots to convey the mood, the message is one young people hear a lot in daily life. Use what we (as a society) have decided your talents are, and any individual ambition you have is a waste because we aren't getting what we want out of you.
Nearly every aspiring kid in this show is firmly in a place they're not "supposed" to be, including side characters. It can get a bit overdone but it's still a solid premise for your cast and heck, even side characters get in on the action.
I'm so mad that we haven't seen more of her because her Food Wars-level reaction to the runway show made episode 3. Also her statement there isn't entirely true.

She wanted to look nice and be noticed, but the world of fashion didn't give a shit because she doesn't conventionally fit into it.
She's great! I don't remember her name, but she made for a convincing POV on how Ikuto and Chiyuki's apparent drawbacks in their respective crafts can also make them unique and inspiring. Plus she gets the cheesiest line in the whole show.

Bless shows that go for the title drop as an emotional moment. I cannot help but appreciate how directly dumb it is, but hey in case you didn't get the message the title of the show is about breaking conventions because a lot of what we consider rules are made up bullshit. The true impact isn't just noticing when those norms are broken though, but how they ripple out and encourage others to do the same.


The tiny people revolution has begun! Someone give Micchy a fork that she can use as a pitchfork.
It's really touching! You mentioned Food Wars earlier and that sequence reminded me of that show at its best early moments, where it humanizes the world of gourmet cooking by connecting it to personal struggles. Here's it's showing that there's value outside of traditional modeling and design not because you can make more money, but because it can have a genuinely positive impact on the world outside of it. Now if only it could convince Ikuto's terrible boss to not work his employees into an early grave.
I'm 100% certain that one of the reasons this show is so good at showing the brutality of the fashion industry is that the animators working on it have seen this same expression on themselves or coworkers daily.
It's definitely an interesting angle to make Ikuto's hard-nosed No Bullshit shonen mentor be, well, a bad boss who has to be pressured into not treating his subordinates as disposable meatsacks.
I get that they want to be realistic and portray him as the kind of gatekeeper to the industry who is gruff and tough, but really all it does is show how terrible the fashion industry is, and all the attempted tsundere moments with him feel really unearned or more like an abusive relationship than actual mentoring. Did you end up doing well? Ok you get to stay. Make a minor mistake or he's in a bad mood over something else? Better walk on eggshells and beg for your life.
I think the idea is he's a designer who's internalized a lot of the "harsh realities" of trying to make it in fashion, but yeah the show could stand to press him harder on how shitty he is towards the literal minor he has working for him, not to mention Kokoro.
I mean Ikuto and Chikyuki had to go to lengths they'd never even perceived in order to make Yanagida's show a success. Do you know how rough it has to be for a highschool dork like Ikuto to see a boob and try not to pop an awkward boner right in front of everyone?
It's all part of being a professional. You want to be a designer you're gonna have to not be weird about seeing boobs. Though I do find it funny Ikuto's mainly distracted by Chiyuki's assets in particular.
The boy can get serious when he needs to, and then we get treated to a first in anime.
I know in context she's talking about sweating from running to the gig but boy does that framing make it sound like she's worried about crotch funk.
I mean those things aren't exclusive, and you can't say the show isn't intending that when this is the next line.
Really though, awkward teenage horniness aside they make a good team. Both are nervous underprepared but they spur one another to keep on keeping on instead of being devoured by nerves.
I especially loved the moment the show confirms this ain't just Chiyuki's story when she wrestling tags Ikuto in to run the show for several episodes.She's already ahead thanks to years of determination, so our dumb boy needs some spotlight to catch up.
He's got to work his way to the top! And he collects like 4 different Designer rivals along the way. The boy knows how to unwittingly pick fights.

Ah right, since he's voiced by Natsuki Hanae he of course has to be sought after by a Tsukiyama.
Toh knows what he likes, and what he likes are timid boys with terrible haircuts and hidden talents.
Don't forget lying and manipulation for selfish goals! Earlier we mentioned the theme of breaking free of rules and expectations, and the major players down the current stretch are all playing into that by channeling the most powerful motivation of all: pure spite.

Everyone has someone that feel they need to prove something to, and Toh is introduced as driven by a need to surpass his high-profile grandmother and earn her recognition in order to be allowed his own place in the fashion world... but much like his encouragement of Ikuto things aren't always what they seem.
Toh really is just a snake. At first blush I thought he was just a dude high on his own privilege who still had some worthwhile points, but around the time he tells Ikuto to give up on his dreams in order to pay his mom's hospital bills, you realize he's actually an egomaniac with all the empathy of a Psycho-Pass villain.
It gets even worse! He hammers down the point of how much he needs to win to other characters, but when we finally meet his grandma it turns out she already accepts and is fully supportive of him. He's simply been telling everyone else a lie because he sees it as a better narrative to his success. He's literally trying to force others back into what he deems are their appropriate subordinate roles while co-opting their legit motivations to disguise his privilege.
He frames it as respecting the family name but nope, dude just wants to show up his grandma in a pissing contest only he entered. Toh absolutely sucks the moon out of the sky and I cannot wait to see Ikuto and Kokoro whoop his ass.
There's a huge difference between "I have to surpass grandma's record or I'll never escape this family cage," and "I want to surpass grandma's record because think how much money and prestige that will give me," and I really like the decision to throw Ikuto at him with the same theme, even if I would've gone a different direction.

Like how do you not embrace this fashion icon?

But yeah, I'm very much looking forward to Toh eating some humble pie in the last quarter of the show. Almost as much as I'm eager to see Kokoro's manager get dunked on too since she's even more blatant about her bribery.
Her backstory is only glimpsed at but that is a lady who has seen hell and has decided that in order to save people from those same flames that she'll simply burn them to nothing first.
It's a logic I can understand but is very, obviously messed up. Any attempts at "protecting" her protege from the forces that hurt her is ultimately just her becoming an agent of those same forces. Which is why it's so damn satisfying when Chiyuki, who by all accounts should see Kokoro as a threat and rival, volunteers to help her.

The way they did Chiyuki and Ikuto both knowing Kokoro but having completely different perspectives on her was really well done, and I appreciate that instead of it becoming a divide. As soon as Chiyuki realized they differed she instantly regretted that her opinion was from a surface level, and that Ikuto's was from a position of actually knowing the person.
To be fair to Chiyuki, it's not her fault she couldn't get a read on Kokoro. Girl can flip from genki to Jojo's Villain like a light switch.
She's gonna need her Stand in order to take out this final boss.
I'm just really thankful that of all the ways the series could have taken their dynamic (god forbid a love triangle) it instead has them show solidarity in the face of those trying to stop them.

The toxic attitudes are so ingrained that empathy and comradery are treated as weakness, and any time someone dares to express either they're pounced on by a pack of vipers. Thankfully it turns out those two things are exactly what you need to fight vipers off, and even bring those that stood in your way onto your side. Whether that's a potential rival

or even a mentor that was trying to shield you

it's ok to face hardships, and even fail at them, when you're not alone.
That's the beating heart of Runway when you get down to it. Even with all the dressings of the fashion industry it's ultimately a story about the most classic shonen moral of all: the power of friendship. Specifically it's about using friendship to smack people in the face with your success, but that's the kind of earnest spite I can get behind.
I mean, who wouldn't want to crush this?

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