They say you only live once, but for the girls of Wollongong the party never stops! Sarah and Rachel of [adult swim]‘s most audaciously Aussie animated series, Yolo, is back for another go of eclectic and cosmic adventures through the outback and out beyond. While the girls may be leaving their Crystal Fantasy behind to embrace their Silver Destiny, as the show’s floating, glowing disembodied head of a narrator begrudgingly exclaims, it’s just the “same show, different name. Or some shit.” Indeed, the change in title is only as meaningful as the different subtitles given to the later seasons of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Fundamentally, Yolo is still focused on the irreverent misadventures of its party girl heroines as they navigate life, friendship, and all the weirdness around them.
Even if at heart Silver Destiny is still the same show as Crystal Fantasy, the additional seasons of television experience Michael Cusack and his team have accumulated have translated into a more polished aesthetic that hasn’t lost the loose charms of the series’ indie Youtube animation roots. In contrast to the first season, where the characters and locations could look different from shot to shot, this season has found more of a consistent grounding in the look of the characters and world, using that as a baseline to break rules and experiment from there. The series is just as expressive, colorful, and imaginative as ever, with a bevy of fantastical creature designs, gorgeous and surreal backgrounds, and dynamic animation that can be funny though fluid or erratic character animation, hyper-detailed and grotesque close-ups, and especially moments of off-guard simplicity, like when a group of characters are lifted up from the ground and onto the back of a giant creature in a basic motion-tween in the first episode. The series finds a lot of creative utility in Adobe Animate’s puppetting tools while also giving its animators chances to break free into looser frame-by-frame animation. You never quite know how a character is going to move, or how they’re going to react, and that just makes them all the more fun to watch!
In moving from Fantasy to Destiny, the show finds itself wanting to grow and change as much as its protagonists. As actor/writer Todor Manjilovic explains, the title Silver Destiny evokes the idea of an overarching plot and as creator Michael Cusask explores, they’ve set out to have a more continuous storyline and an arc throughout the season. Sarah and Rachel both have their own goals we track throughout each episode, with Sarah starting her own garden, and Rachel embracing her dark prophetic destiny of becoming an evil empress. Yolo, characteristic of a lot of Cusack’s colorful and expressionistic work, thrills in its creativity and experimentation, trying to create stories and characters and worlds that feel exciting, surprising, novel, and just plain funny.
The switch to serialization reflects not only the ambitions of Yolo’s writing team wanting to keep the series creatively fresh and interesting but also the ethos of its ever-evolving world, where a new surprise awaits around every corner. This spirit is also embodied by our protagonists, who through their journeys this season, are seeking change in their lives, having lost the thrill in thrill-seeking and no longer partial to never-ending partying, yearning for something more out of life, longing for dreams long thought unobtainable or forgotten.
We’ve already seen Sarah feel discontent with being “stuck in a loop of partying and regret” in season one’s “Planet Horrorscope,” and have seen how she could live a fulfilling life without Rachel in the season one finale “Enter Bushworld.” The series has not been shy about addressing that Rachel is a toxic friend and that her influence has held Sarah back from discovering her talents, nurturing her own happiness, and forming other healthy relationships. This season pushes that idea further, with her embarrassment and frustration at not changing inspiring her to try to grow a garden, discovering how to help herself grow by helping other things grow. It also keeps reemphasizing Rachel’s controlling influence on Sarah’s decision-making and her stifling effect on her confidence.
In the season’s 4th episode, “Chaise and the City,” we dive into one of Sarah’s dreams, a whirlwind romance inspired by a New York-set art movie starting a pretentious pretty boy named “Chimothy Thalamet” who sees her as living art and takes her on a different kind of adventure than she’s used to. Exploring the city, a place of connections and culture unlike her home of Wollongong, makes Sarah contemplate what she’s been missing, and what she wants for herself. The puppeteer of her dreams purposefully constructs this fantasy to convince her to have bigger dreams and leave Rachel behind, because as he points out, under Rachel’s influence, Sarah has stopped dreaming altogether. The season continues to explicitly highlight Rachel’s selfishness when it comes to Sarah, and that when given the choice between her friend’s happiness and her own, Rachel will always choose herself first. But rather than portray Rachel as an antagonizing presence Sarah is better off without, the series has a more nuanced, empathetic view of toxic and codependent friendships, and why people stay in them. At the end of the season one finale, a dying elderly Sarah mused that even though Rachel was not always a good friend, and they didn’t always have good times, they still had a lot of fun together, and in the end, that’s what she remembers most. Ultimately, while Sarah may be drifting away from Rachel, she’s truly brought a lot of joy and fun into her life, and so their friendship is one that’s hard for her to let go of.
Rachel’s arc, meanwhile, explores her codependency with Sarah and rekindles her own ambitions. After receiving the warning/prophecy that she’s on the path to becoming an evil empress, Rachel, who has mostly lived her life indulgently and indifferently, starts to become inspired. For the first time, she has a goal besides partying she wants to work towards. Much like how Sarah didn’t think she was talented enough to grow a garden, Rachel realized that she “always wanted this for myself, but never realized I could make it into a reality, until now.” Rachel has also become more self-aware of the fact that, even though she often dismisses her feelings and treats her poorly, Sarah is the most important person in her life, and she deeply loves her. After the events of the first season, Rachel is no longer reluctant to openly admit she loves Sarah and desires to party with her forever, Rachel’s insecurity over Sarah leaving her is brought to the forefront in the season’s 4th episode, where she is literally depicted as a baby in Sarah’s dreams, wailing loudly for her attention. Rachel is both overly protective of Sarah, and incredibly dependent on her. With this relationship dynamic solidified after the events of the Crystal Fantasy, Silver Destiny promises to push their friendship and relationship even further to, as Sarah’s actress Sarah Bishop teases, the point where they’ll need to have a heart-to-heart about what they want out of their lives and what they need from each other.
While Yolo’s stories remain centered around the relationship between Sarah and Rachel, the series also continues to build out its world and introduce delightfully distinct and memorable characters that are often just as interesting. From the verdant forest where the commune resides to the cosmic Purple Fire God’s realm, from the crabs and caves of Planet Bali to the industrious greyscale city of New York, the characters travel through many different locales and meet so many fun characters, including new characters like the multi-armed Johnny Depp Wonka-esque Puppeteer, previously alluded to characters like Sarah’s bridezilla of a sister Sharon, and even returning characters like Sarah’s grumpy parents and good boy Kalekan. Lucas, Sarah’s creepily obsessed neckbeard stalker, has also been granted main character status and given his own arc of becoming a wannabe alchemist collecting ingredients for a love potion to steal Sarah’s heart. While he’s not the most likable character, comparatively, the series makes efforts to depict his more admirable qualities, showing some more of his bravery and even having him save the day from time to time. The eclectic and eccentric worlds and characters of Yolo contrast and complement our protagonists and their stories interestingly and humorously, and make every new episode feel distinct from each other, even though they’re now more tied in with each other than ever.
Of course, Yolo also wouldn’t be as funny as it is without the show’s incredibly hilarious vocal talents. Sarah Bishop brings a great deal of warmth and sincerity to Sarah’s character, and even though she doesn’t get to go as wild as other characters, when she’s gotta get loud and crazy she can really bring it, going from soft-spoken to booming in a heartbeat. Todor Manojlovic’s gruff and smarmy performance as Rachel really characterizes her crudeness and recalcitrantness well. Michael Cusack plays too many characters to count, and while the range of voices he has isn’t necessarily broad, he has an instinctive knack for odd and goofy line deliveries and comic timing that elicit big laughs every time. Altogether, the trio and a handful of other actors populate the world of Wollongong with voices as colorfully quirky as they look!
Underneath its erratic exterior, Yolo is a deceptively thoughtful and emotionally complex show that really shines a spotlight on the nuances of toxic relationships, particularly in female friendships, exploring territory that few other animated shows, besides [adult swim]’s own Tuca & Bertie. navigate. It’s a credit to the show’s incredible writing team, and Cusack’s own creative voice, that the show can be as sincere as it is silly. It’s a shame Yolo isn’t as popular as Cusack’s other [as] hit, Smiling Friends, but even if it’s not as destined for greatness as Rachel, the silver lining is that like Sarah, it’s continuing to find ways to grow and express a creative voice and energy wholly it’s own, and I think that’s worth its weight in silver. You only live once, and like Sarah and Rachel, Cusack and his team are making the most of the time they’ve got to make a truly special show, and I’m excited to follow along the girls’ adventures in Wollongong, and invite you all to come join the party!
For more thoughts on the series, and insights into what fans can expect from this newest season, listen to our interview with Michael Cusack, Sarah Bishop, and Todor Manojloic on Manga Mavericks on TV!
Watch Yolo: Silver Destiny on [adult swim] and HBO Max. Thanks again to [adult swim] for providing us access to advance screeners for this review.