Smile Down the Runway – Anime Preview
Synopsis: Chiyuki Fujito was going to be a professional runway model until she stopped growing. Poor Ikuto Tsumura is not even sure if he wants to be a fashion designer because of his family responsibilities. Faced with overwhelming adversity, they need to decide if their dreams are worth pursuing. It’s not impossible – they’ll just have to be creative in how they get there! (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Smile Down the Runway splits its attention between two leads: Chiyuki Fujito, the young, beautiful girl seeking to become a Runway Super Model and Ikuto Tsumura, a financially impaired high schooler who’s dream of becoming a fashion designer feels far out of his reach. My issues with the series stem from the treatment of Chiyuki Fujito and the idea that she’s facing “overwhelming adversity,’ as described in the synopsis above. The sheer dramatic weight the show gives her scenes of self doubt and fear back this description up, but it’s by Chiyuki own frustrating narrow concept of what constitutes success that there’s any adversity in her life at all. Compared to so many other protagonists chasing their dreams, or people in actual, real life, clawing towards their far off goals, she has it obnoxiously easy.
Linny: There’s undeniable tragedy in not being able or allowed to pursue your dream. In the case of Ikuto, whose family faces severe financial issues due to a hospitalized parent, it certainly works to win the audience’s sympathy. But in the case of Chiyuki, it’s a little harder to sympathize with her because her goal is so specific and involves something usually associated with vanity and extreme vapidness. It isn’t like she isn’t able to become a model at all, as showcased in this very episode when she passes another agency’s audition, she just can’t qualify to walk the runway at very a specific, if highly lauded, modeling showcase.
Tom: Frustratingly, no matter how it sells itself, this isn’t even a story about overcoming adversity. Chiyuki has ample opportunity for success. She’s not even being told by everyone she can’t be a model. She totally can. Success takes time, and few people achieve their childhood dreams at all, and those who do never do so right out the gate. They find a path towards those dreams and work and work until one day all their failures and mini successes allow them to make it there. But instead of learning that failure is just another lesson towards success Chiyuki is handed an absolute victory, using Ikuto’s talents to secure herself as her father’s fashion label’s representative at the very fashion show she’s aiming for. There’s nothing compelling about this story because she’s handed her dreams within twenty-three minutes. Maybe there’s a few more steps toward the show, but she’s already miles ahead of most and not on an ounce of her own talent.
Linny: Also Smile Down the Runway shifts goal posts when needed. We start off with how it’s IMPOSSIBLE for Chiyuki to work at her dad’s fashion agency due to not meeting the appropriate height requirement. Then the recruiter for her father’s agency claims that Chiyuki simply does not have the talent. SO which is it? Height or Talent? Finally, none of this is relevant because apparently all it takes is the right outfit to prove everyone wrong. This actually makes her problem seem all the more superficial and vapid because it isn’t like she is shown practicing her runaway walk or exercising and putting actual effort into preparing her body for the profession she wants. All she does is keep going to the auditions held at her father’s agency and being super bubbly and stubborn about rejection. In fact, it is in truth Ikuto’s talent as a fledgling designer that truly helps her, so despite the show trying to pass it off as THEIR show, it really feels more like it should just be The Ikuto Show.
Tom: For as compelling as Ikuto is though, his story doesn’t feature much beyond the generic and cliche. While his goals to become a Fashion Designer are certainly not the most common of anime tales, much of his struggling home life is. He comes from a family with a hospitalized parent and far too many kids for their finances to handle. It’s tragic, but cliche and I’d almost bet money this backstory features once every anime season.
Linny: Even if cliche, I won’t deny that Ikuto’s story could keep Smile Down the Runway as an enjoyable tale. Plenty of people are forced to abandon their passions and settle into dead end jobs because they don’t have the money or opportunity needed to pursue their true dreams. Learning that even his siblings made plenty of sacrifices to avoid straining the family financially makes the whole family that much more sympathetic. Seeing him make do with what he has, being the sole member of a club and working with whatever donated materials he can get all make Ikuto a passionate person who is still considering giving it all up for the sake of others. It may be filled with cliches, but sometimes those work no matter how worn they are. On the flip side though, it might be Ikuto’s tragic tale right there that actually makes Chiyuki’s drama look all the more silly and self centred.
Linny: Anime has often turned industries and topics I had no interest in into gripping stories and I was willing to give Smile Down the Runway a chance to turn an industry I strongly associate with vanity, consumerism and exploitation into something more palatable. Unfortunately, thanks to a seemingly vapid female lead and a tragic but overall generic male lead, Smile Down the Runway hasn’t given me any hope that it will produce anything revolutionary. Sure, it will likely still engage and impress those fond of dramatic goal chasing stories but if you were hoping for ground breaking content with deep characters, keep this off your watchlist.
Tom: Overall Smile Down the Runway operates on cliche and low stakes melodrama. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a lot of respect or interest for the high fashion industry. It’s an industry that deserves a lot of criticism. Sadly, Smile Down the Runway looks more to glorify it rather than paint it with an honest brush. There’s better slice of life this season, and I’d only recommend Smile Down the Runway if you’ve been dying for a fashion show based anime. I’ll say that, it’s really the only one I can think of.
Smile Down the Runway is available for streaming via Funimation.