Season aired: Winter 2020
Number of episodes: 12
Genres: Slice of Life, Drama
Thoughts: I am an avid fan of the American fashion designing show, Project Runway. For three years of college, after I moved in with my roommates who are now basically my sisters, we religiously watched every episode as it aired. In addition, I also enjoyed my fair share of drama and critiquing America’s Next Top Model, even though I technically have no say in the actual matter. So, when I heard about an anime focused on fashion designing and modeling, did I promptly freak out and put that anime on my watchlist? Yes. Yes, I did.
Smile Down the Runway features two leads fighting against the odds in their industries. Chiyuki is the daughter of a father who owns a modeling agency. Having dreamed of becoming a supermodel her entire life, Chiyuki suddenly stopped growing in middle school and was too short to ever be considered in the model industry at all. On the other hand, Ikuto is the oldest son of a family of five. Because of his deceased dad and bedridden mom, his entire family depends on Ikuto, whose dream and talent lie in fashion designing at a young age. However, for the sake of his family, Ikuto has long since given up on pursuing his dream. Both Chiyuki and Ikuto’s lives drastically change when the two underdogs meet each other and find common ground in what appears to be a hopeless pursuit of success.
I think Smile Down the Runway’s shining feature is the two leads and their relationship. While the relationship never becomes romantic in the 12 episodes that air, it’s nonetheless a relationship I admire. They hold incredible respect for each other, compete in a positive atmosphere, and help inspire each other as they work to succeed in industries that try to dismiss them. Platonic or romantic, people forge relationships for emotional positives than negatives, and I think Ikuto and Chiyuki’s relationship is the perfect example of how these emotional positives work. They do argue, they have their downs, and yes, they can be jealous when one succeeds more than the other, but ultimately, these downsides never reflect in ugliness, manipulation, or toxicity towards each other. Their downs always translate into positive emotional motivations in the end.
At the beginning, I felt a lot of reservations towards Chiyuki’s character after it was revealed that Ikuto would take center stage more than her. It would be far too easy for her to become a manic pixie dream girl to Ikuto as her dogged personality and spontaneity were what forced him onto the path of becoming a fashion designer. She could get relegated to the side and serve as a spunky inspiration for the male protagonist, and that would be the extent of her role in the story.
Thankfully, the writer did not go there. Chiyuki’s dream and goal ultimately was her own separate ambition apart from Ikuto. Whether he truly pursued fashion designing or not, she wasn’t going to give up becoming a top model walking down the runway in Paris. The series gives Chiyuki focus, even when it becomes clear Ikuto is the main character of the show. While she inspires Ikuto, Ikuto inspires her just as much in return.
I also praise the series for not putting the two main leads into simple character boxes. Ikuto quickly reveals that he is the emotional one of the two. He cries easily, he’s motherly towards his younger siblings, and he sacrifices his own goals and life for others. It would, once again, become too easy for Ikuto to represent the stereotypical “soft” character who’s sensitive and Chiyuki the “strong” character.
Instead, they exist as complicated characters. While Chiyuki is tougher than Ikuto and rarely cries in front of anyone, she is also extremely girly. She loves wearing pretty clothes, has a flirty and lighthearted voice, and tends to tease those she cares about — all the while maintaining a stout and pure heart with no intention of manipulation or sabotage. Meanwhile, Ikuto isn’t purely a saint; he has selfish moments. However, neither does the story portray him as a person who acts pure and genuine because of the need to put up a front. A person can be honest and genuine while having their selfish moments at the same time. It simply makes Ikuto human.
The flaw is, however, the dialogue. There are a lot of scenes where characters voice their inner thoughts, and it feels completely unnecessary because of their facial expressions. For example, during a fashion show, the series would show every single individual of importance in the crowd, their faces, and have them think, “How unexpected!” or “It’s amazing!”. The dialogue felt like filler in what could’ve been easily conveyed with animation and music. In fact, this takes the audience out of the story rather than keep them in.
The art also definitely has faulty moments where the characters’ eyes look crooked or the series would reuse animation sequences. However, the most disappointing part of the series is the actual fashion shows. Since Smile Down the Runway’s entire premise was based on fashion design, I always presumed the art to exceed my expectations when it was time for the models to walk.
Instead, we only get to see the designs from afar and, oftentimes, very briefly, except for one or two particular moments purposefully meant to illustrate our characters’ strengths. There were many times I wanted to screenshot an entire collection to share with people on social media, yet I couldn’t find a good moment where I could properly pause and show the followers what the actual outfit looked like. If they had to decrease animation and art quality, I only wished they could’ve funneled the quality into the collections instead.
Unfortunately, all of these cons negatively impacted my enjoyment of the series. As much as I love the characters, the flaws regarding dialogue and art actually did bite into the series as a whole. As a result, I say if you want to pick up Smile Down the Runway, don’t expect anything mind-blowing. You’ll have a good time watching it, but I don’t think it’ll stay in your memories for long.
Voice acting: 8
FINAL SCORE: 75