Just like every genre of every form of media, shonen anime as a whole can be described by the sum of their parts. When an anime fan is asked to name a shonen title, they will most likely mention a series like Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho or Jujutsu Kaisen. Not only because they are all properties of famous shonen magazines, but because they embody what the genre is best known for: epic fights showcasing the series’ martial arts of magic system.
Action is a surefire way to get the audience’s attention, and it appeals to the target audience. However, it would be wrong to assume all shonen anime are like this. There are just as many where fighting isn’t a part of the story at all, in the typical sense. Smile Down the Runway is one such series. Centered around the world of high fashion, it seems ill-fitting in the genre at a glance. Despite this “feminine” subject, it has everything a good shonen can ask for, from its characters to the tension it manages to create.
Smile Down the Runway’s Characters Face Seemingly Impossible Odds
The fashion industry is highly competitive on all fronts, and the smallest mistake could ruin a brand’s reputation. From Episode 1, Smile Down the Runway makes this clear to the audience. Before they even have a chance in this cutthroat world, both protagonists face unchangeable circumstances in their own way.
Chiyuki has dreamed of being a top model since she was a child, but her chances were shattered when she stopped growing. Standing at six inches below the standard model’s height, her role models brutally told her she had no chance. Chiyuki persisted, and was eventually fired as a reality check. Yet she shows up to every audition, hoping to be allowed back.
Meanwhile, aspiring fashion designer Ikuto thought he was fine letting his dream stay a dream. His mother is hospitalized, leaving him and his sisters to make ends meet without her. Money’s tight, and his sewing skills have helped the family pinch pennies. He wants more, but believes it’s better for his family if he throws his dream away so his sisters can live theirs. It’s only after he meets Chiyuki and is influenced by her passion that he changes his mind. At this point, they share a common trait.
Smile Down the Runway’s Chiyuki and Ikuto Are Determined Shonen Protagonists
Stubbornness and determination are qualities so common in shonen protagonists that they’re almost a requirement. Black Clover‘s Asta won’t settle for being less than the Wizard King, and The Promised Neverland‘s Emma won’t stop fighting until her family is free. Smile Down the Runway‘s Chiyuki and Ikuto are the same way about their respective dreams.
Chiyuki embodies this trait in its purest form. Even though she’s been told for years that she will never have what it takes to be a supermodel, she has never given up on her dream. She works on her walk, tries different clothes and anything else she can think of to show off what she can do. Even when employers turn her down on sight because of her size, Chiyuki begs for a chance. This is the world she wants to be in and she’ll do anything to make it happen.
Ikuto, though still adjusting to chasing what he wants, has yet to truly give up. At the start of the series, his age also holds him back. Had he been even a year or two older, he would have met fewer problems than he did. Though he proves his talent by creating beautiful clothes, no brand will hire a high school student with no formal training. So, he seeks out that training and gets thrown right into the deep end. Ikuto may hesitate and make mistakes, but he never complains or backs down.
Smile Down the Runway’s Excellent Use of Tension and Framing
Because Smile Down the Runway hammers home Chiyuki and Ikuto’s passion and determination, the audience can’t help but root for them despite their low odds of success. Although it is the story of them reaching their goals, the process is wrought with ups and downs; either one of them can take a step forward or backward in any given episode. A new character shows up who may help or hinder them, or just throw a curveball into the scenario.
To top this off, the way the scenes are paced and framed match up with any other shonen anime. The OP shows the main pair meeting obstacles and overcoming them in a flurry of furious fashion work. Ikuto makes a last-minute adjustment and Chiyuki walks onstage with purpose, set on proving herself. This is the two of them in every “battle” they wind up in. They’re racing against the clock, working with what’s in front of them and adjusting when plans fail. Shots of Ikuto sewing can be as intense as Light writing in the Death Note, and Chiyuki’s walk as powerful as Goku finally joining the fight.