Smile Down the Runway is a Japanese manga series by Kotoba Inoya. It was serialized in Kodansha's Weekly Shōnen Magazine from May 2017 to July 2021 and has been collected in twenty-two tankōbon volumes. Kodansha USA digitally published the manga in North America. An anime television series adaptation by Ezo'la aired from January 10 to March 27, 2020 on the Animeism programming block. Funimation produced a SimulDub of the series, which premiered on January 24, 2020.
Chiyuki Fujito has a dream: to become a model. The problem is she's too short to be one, and everyone around her tells her so. But no matter what they say, she won't give up. Her classmate, a poor student named Ikuto Tsumura, also has a dream: to become a fashion designer. The two decide to combine their dreams and overcome the naysayers.
Smile Down the Runway provides examples of the following tropes:
- 12-Episode Anime: This is the total amount of episodes the anime adaptation has.
- Always Camp: Hazime mentions that there are a lot of gays in the fashion industry, although the only explicitly gay character that has been seen is Carlos.
- Ambiguous Situation: Toh's "bet" with his grandmother. Toh claims that he's aiming to beat her Geika Fashion Festival record in order to make her acknowledge him as a fashion designer and let him go independent. However, Mai says that those condition is a Self-Imposed Challenge Toh had set for himself, and Mai wants him to go independent regardless. The flashback where Mai tells her grandson to make her acknowledge his skills was apparently said during her drunk episode, which may be closer to how she actually feels about Toh. When Toh fails to beat Mai's record at the festival, Mai chides him for copying her style, while still encouraging him go independent from Aphro I Dite, which Toh refuses because his pride wouldn't allow him to do so when he failed his own test. Later, Mai tries to promote Toh and give him so much freedom in her company to such a degree that he might as well go independent, which drives Toh to quit Aphro I Dite and start his own brand. While she blandly indulges his whims, she later shows distress at his resignation.
- Ambition Is Evil: Inverted. Hazime outright says that ambition is required for a fashion designer to thrive, because the challenges one must face in the industry (i.e. catering to customer demands, liaising with suppliers, managing the production lines, etc.) will wear down even the most passionate designers if they don't have a higher goal beyond their love of making clothes. In fact, part of Ikuto's character growth is marked when he develops a competitive streak and a desire to win against Toh, when previously he was content to merely appreciate the clothes that others made.
- Bait-and-Switch: One of Ikuto's main barriers from becoming a professional fashion designer is that he doesn't have a fashion design degree, as he's too poor to pay for such specialized school. Then, he participates in the Geika Institute Fashion Festival, after which he is offered a scholarship by the headmaster. However, right after he submits his application, Ikuto finds an internship opportunity in Aphro I Dite, and after a few months of work, he is given a full-time position at the company, meaning that he never needed the degree.
- Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Ikuto has three younger sisters. The eldest, Honoka, is very smart (brains) and is hoping to get into a prestigious university. The second, Aoi, is a star volleyball player in her school (brawn). The youngest, Ichika, is five, and is described as "cute" (beauty) and is the most appreciative of the clothes and dresses that Ikuto makes.
- Betty and Veronica: Both Kokoro and Chiyuki falls in love for Ikuto. The former is a sweet and humble Shrinking Violet who wants to be a fashion designer rather than a model due to her dislike for attention. Chiyuki is a proud and determined woman who loves attention and wants to be a model.
- Bland-Name Product: Aphro I Dite's main office shares a building with other famous clothing brands such as "Gacci" (Gucci), "Louis Villan" (Louis Vuitton) and "Channel" (Chanel).
- Cast of Snowflakes: All the characters have fairly distinguishable features. Even the models, who are all drawn to be conventionally attractive, don't look all that similar due to their differing eye shapes and general face structure.
- Crack Defeat: Invoked by Toh in the Geika Fashion Festival. Despite being regarded as the best contestant by most of the judges and audiences, his last minute withdrawal from the event ensures that he's placed last instead of first. The official first place position was given to runner-up Kokoro, who was only considered as such because one of the judges voted for her, and only because said judge is a model who sees Kokoro as a rival and wants her to stick to fashion design so that Kokoro would never steal her spotlight. Most of the other judges think that Kokoro's work would otherwise only rank fourth or fifth at best, and the audience seem to agree—expressing confusion at Kokoro's apparent victory over Toh.
- Costume Porn: Given that this is a series about the fashion industry, of course it features a lot of painstakingly detailed costumes that are as gorgeous as they come.
- Debate and Switch: One of the series' main messages is to not give up/compromise on your dreams. Halfway through the Geika Fashion Festival event, Ikuto's mother goes into critical condition, and he has to use the money he would have needed to buy materials for the fashion show for her operation. Toh offers to pay for the operation if Ikuto drops out as a designer to work as his patterner instead (thus compromising his dream), while Igarashi makes the same offer if Ikuto hires Kokoro as his model to make her give up on her dream. This dilemma is easily resolved when Chiyuki's father offers to buy his design (the first dress he made for Chiyuki) for 2 million yen, which gives him more than enough money to pay for his mother's operation and buy materials for his show.
- Decoy Protagonist: The first chapter placed a big emphasis on Chiyuki, with her struggles to be seen as a worthy model for her height taking more precedence over Ikuto's desire to design clothes. The chapter ends with Chiyuki's father telling Ikuto (and the audience) that this will be his story instead, and makes good on that premise.
- Disappeared Dad: The Tsumura's patriarch died when the children were young.
- Engrish: The anime's "commercial break" logo features the words "Smile at the Runway" instead of the actual title.
- Friendly Rivalry:
- Despite not actually "competing" in the same field, Chiyuki declares herself as Ikuto's rival to spur him to improve himself so that they can stand as equals in the fashion world as the top model and designer, respectively.
- During the Geika Fashion Festival, Kokoro and Ikuto must both vie for top place—Kokoro because that's the condition her manager gave her if she wants to continue pursuing a career in fashion design, and Ikuto because he wants to defeat Toh, who is the strongest contender for the top spot.
- Height Angst: Chiyuki doesn't like having her height brought up, especially since her short stature is the reason why she had little success in being a model. Fumiyo is also rather angsty about her short stature. Kokoro is additionally quite self-conscious about her height, only for her, being too tall.
- Irony: The dynamic between Chiyuki and Kokoro stems from this. The former wants nothing more than to become a successful model, but she's constantly rejected due to her height. Meanwhile, Kokoro is tall, beautiful and charismatic, and has everything one could hope for in a model. But due to her Shrinking Violet personality, she hates being a model, and wants nothing more than to quit. She prefers being a fashion designer.
- Love Triangle: Both Chiyuki and Kokoro ends up falling for Ikuto. Ikuto himself immediately thinks of both Chiyuki and Kokoro when Mii asks him if he has any girl friends he's close with.
- Nepotism: Discussed. Mii Sakuma, Hazime and Ikuto manages to get their positions at Aphro I Dite through inside connections (Mii is the daughter of Aphro I Dite's main sponsor, Hazime is Mii's old friend, while Ikuto gets his internship thanks to Toh's recommendation), and are hated by many of the other staff members, who see them as incompetent layabouts who are only coasting on their connections instead of actual merit. However, as Hazime would say, one shouldn't be afraid to use their connections to open up opportunities for themselves, but they should then prove themselves worthy of the position by their hard work and results.
- Rank Up: After applying for an intern job at Aphro I Dite, Ikuto quickly distinguishes himself, rapidly climbing the ranks of the company and is eventually promoted to chief designer of the "Aphro I Dite novice" branch.
- Technician Versus Performer: Discussed at the end of the Geika Institute Fashion Show. Headmaster Takaoka mentions that, while the judges must rank the design collections based on the "artistic merit" of the dresses, this is no way disqualifies the emotional experiences and enjoyment the audience may have had for the "lower ranked" collections. For example, Ikuto is in 11th place due to the lack of finesse and advanced techniques he incorporated in his designs, but at the same time, he is the only other participant aside from Toh (whom the judges deem as #1) who gets any buyers at all. And Mai seems to be more impressed with the unpolished "unisex" concept Ikuto used for his show, rather than Toh's technically refined dresses, which she regards as an inferior copy of her own style.
- To Be a Master: Both Ikuto and Chiyuki, respectively, aspires to be a fashion designer and fashion model that can take the stage of the Paris Fashion Week, which itself is considered the the apex of the industry.
- Wham Line: Hazime declaring that he's closing down his studio to work as one of Aphro I Dite's lead designers, shortly after he hinted to Ikuto that he might hire him full time.
- Will They or Won't They?: While not the focus, there is a minor love triangle going between Chiyuki and Kokoro for Ikuto’s affections. Who does Ikuto end up with in the finale? The mangaka explicitly leaves it ambiguous. Ikuto is indeed married, but to who is up to the reader to decide.