In case it hasn’t been clear from the majority of the pieces I’ve written for Manga Worth Reading, I’m a sucker for pretty much anything that fits in the Shōnen genre. Now, let us think about what usually fits into that genre. Perhaps you might imagine Intense Supernatural brawls, like in Jujutsu Kaisen. Maybe some mental mind games may fill your mind, such as those we find in Death Note. Or the Science showdowns of Doctor Stone. You could even recall the intense matches and epic team rivalry of Sports series, as seen in Haikyu!! However, you might not consider the world of high fashion and designer clothes to fit right in next to these other giants. After all, what does runway drama have to do with Shōnen? Plenty, according to Smile Down the Runway.
Since it’s debut in May 2017, Smile down the Runway has racked up an impressive 15 volumes (with eight currently translated at the time of writing). This high fashion hype train is showing no signs of slowing down. With the first season of its anime adaptation recently wrapping, now seems to be as good a time as ever to check out this new look Shōnen for ourselves. Let’s find out if Smile Down the Runway is worth reading?
I’m a Super-Model, after all
Right from the opening pages of Runway’s first chapter (or “Outfit”, as the contents page charmingly names it), this series will feel like a familiar pair of comfy slippers to any fan of the genre. Why is that exactly? It’s filled with plucky underdogs, of course! First we meet, Chiyuki Fujito, and she could give any Luffy’s, or Deku’s a run for their money when it comes to dogged determination. As the daughter of the owner of the prestigious Japanese modelling agency, Mille Neige, Chiyuki’s been around show models all her life. And it’s her dream to represent MilleNeige on the ultimate stage for top models, at the Paris Fashion Week. She’s got the looks, the skills, the drive, our girl is a shoo-in for the gig, right?
Wrong. Puberty does poor Chiyuki dirty, and her growth spurt grinds to a halt at a measly 158cm. A model for Paris Fashion Week needs to be 175cm tall at a minimum. (Shoyo Hinata feels your pain, sister). Still, she’s not about to let a silly thing she can’t change like her height crush her dreams. Despite pretty much everyone in her life, suggesting otherwise. Her persistence in these early chapters is quite endearing, but also a sign of one of her shortcomings.
You see, because Chiyuki always has modelling on her mind, she kinda skips some other details. Such as the name of her shy and unassuming classmate, Ikuto Tsumura, for example. Not the best look there, Chiyuki. Her matter of fact nature and bluntness regarding Ikuto’s financial background (which isn’t too great, by the way) also doesn’t reflect our protagonist in the best light. But, she shares this bullheaded attribute with plenty of other Shōnen leads I can recall. What starts as a simple school errand for our heroine quickly becomes a lot more interesting when she discovers humble Tsumura’s secret talent: he’s a genius fashion designer!
I’m the main star?
That’s right, this series is a double act, and the second lead in our dynamic duo has just as much of an uphill battle as Chiyuki. Throughout the volume, we learn more about Ikuto, who has dreams of entering the world of Fashion Design. However, this is also hampered by circumstances outside of his control. Ikuto comes from a single-parent household with a lot of mouths to feed/bodies to clothe. He is more concerned with finding a job to support his mother and sisters than pursuing a design course in college, which is all but required to make any headway in the industry.
In what is quite a poignant character moment, Chiyuki realizes the pair are pretty much in the same boat. But, seeing how Ikuto has come to terms with the reality of his situation results in Chiyuki steeling herself to pursue her dream harder than ever. And, ever the resourceful go-getter, Chiyuki enlists her new design-inclined ally to assist in a desperate gambit that could pay off for the both of them in ways they would never expect…
Smile Down the Runway volume 1 spoilers
Realizing a model’s role is to showcase the outfit, Chiyuki deduces that she needs an especially charming outfit to portray her talent fully. Itsuki is just the man for the job. A top model needs a top designer to help her look her best, after all. The pair pull out the stops and Chiyuki’s stunning walk is enough to bag her a contract at Mille Neige. However, thanks to some of that trademark bullheadedness on Chiyuki’s part, the outfit ends up going viral, with the agency’s name attached. There’s such a buzz around it that Chiyuki’s father Kenji ends up calling in the amateur designer behind it and offering him a position at his company. That is until he realizes Chiyuki might’ve told him a few white lies and Itsuki doesn’t have the college background he requires.
It’s a pivotal moment for both our protagonists. Firstly, Chiyuki has to eat a lot of humble pie for her rash actions. Resulting in her being a little more thoughtful of those around her, including giving Itsuko the encouraging push he needs. Chiyuki’s made her dream a reality, and now she’s ready to drag her new friend towards his (even if it takes a little tough love to get him there).
As for Itsuko, his meeting with Kenji was a gut punch to his dreams, but also a foot in the door of an industry that he previously had no hope of entering. Thanks to an indirect pep talk from Chiyuki, Itsuko is able to pluck up the courage to face Kenji again with a fresh look of his own. While the boss still isn’t able to give a highschooler a design position in his company, he can put him in touch with an independent designer he knows well. And so, in quite the poetic sense, just as Itsuko helped solidify Chiyuki’s dream, so too does she assist him in making the first steps of a future he didn’t think possible.
Clothes can change people
While the first half of this volume focuses primarily on Chiyuki’s modelling exploits, the back half predominately features Itsuko and his introduction to the world of professional Fashion Design. We do get a bit more insight into the design process here, and it’s fascinating stuff. Sprinkled throughout the volume during chapter page breaks are handy little terminology breakdowns, which are especially insightful for those of us that may be a little fashionably uninitiated (i.e. Me). In the final chapters, we delve into the mechanics and mannerisms that form the foundation of the fashion, which I found a real treat.
Author Kotaba Inoya does a commendable job in striking a delicate balance between developing behind the scenes insight and the characters on the main stage. It would be an easy blunder to overload us with industry jargon from an early stage. Inoya wisely introduces concepts at a bite-sized pace, and through the lens of characters, whom we have formed an attachment. I’m a firm believer that an author capable of creating compelling characters could make an entertaining manga about watching paint dry. Inoya truly succeeds in making me care about design concepts I barely understand thanks to the strong characters that ground them.
With the increased attention to the design process in the later chapters, we see Ikuto grow. He develops a little backbone for himself while showcasing his worth to those in doubt. Mirroring Chiyuki as she did before him. The volume wraps with another exciting step forward in Itsuko’s design career. Plus, a surprise reunion that I am very excited to see play out in the next volume!
The fine art of high fashion
I’m hoping the panels I’ve chosen for this review will communicate the high quality of art throughout this volume. They ensure that the dynamic duo of the fashion world’s exploits are just as stunning to look at as they are to read. Just as the models have to ensure the clothes they wear, have the spotlight. Inoya’s sharp and crisp lines make sure we can enjoy the characters they convey to their fullest extent.
Is Smile Down the Runway worth reading?
Definitely! This Smile Down the Runway volume 1 had all my favourite familiar Shōnen staples in a fresh new style. Inoya has crafted quite the compelling pair in Chiyuki and Itsuko. Watching them go through substantial development in even the opening chapters was more than enough to get me invested in their journey into the fashion world. And, did I detect the planting of potential romance seeds? Therefore, making me invested in fashion in the process! It’s clear then that Smile Down the Runway turns out to be quite the head-turner. I’m very excited to see what’s coming down the catwalk for us next in volume 2!