Kevin Penkin’s score swells as Riko and Reg’s message balloon breaks through the clouds of the first layer. The balloon is battered, broken, has been mended once, and yet somehow managed to survive the four-layer journey that Riko cannot. It reaches the surface because Riko cannot.
Landing conveniently in the exact same location where Riko discovered Reg, Nat and Shiggy easily find it. They carry it back through the town of Orth as the sun sets, and the petals of eternal fortune flowers line their path home.
Through this scene, Made in Abyss visually bookends its first anime season. The petals, present during Lyza the Annihilator’s Resurrection Day in the second episode, now welcome Lyza’s daughter home in a similar fashion. Shiggy and Nat discover Riko’s message where she found Reg, effectively recalling a time when she was physically present in their lives. Made in Abyss is a series that weaves a tapestry with myriad threads, knowing precisely when to return to a specific visual frame or memory.
This return that becomes the centerpiece of Made in Abyss‘ final episode is completely anime-original, ending the series with a distinctly different tone. Rather than immediately focusing on the journey ahead as Riko, Reg, and Nanachi press onward, their careful preparation is interspersed with the balloon traveling over each layer and location through which Riko and Reg have already passed.
Upon first watch, I was focused on Riko’s return itself, especially since it was placed side-by-side with Mitty’s parting — a kindred spirit to Riko in every way. Yet, Made in Abyss is also a series that rewards rewatching, and the second time I found myself focused on something completely different: the Seeker Camp’s Marulk.
We know very little about Marulk’s circumstances other than that Ozen took them in and now they’re a staple member of the Seeker Camp. Marulk lacks the insatiable curiosity of Riko or a cave raider and their gratitude towards Ozen is palpable.
It’s easy to imagine that the manner in which Marulk earned their blue whistle was in similar fashion to how Ozen supplied Riko and Reg with blue whistles while they trained — it’s easier to explain than having a red whistle or lack of a whistle at a camp through which only moon, black, and white whistles can pass into the third layer. In other words, Marulk is fairly content to stay at the Seeker Camp, and expresses no desire to follow Riko on her journey, despite caring for her. By extension, because Marulk doesn’t share that same curiosity, this makes Marulk’s role at the Seeker Camp an emotionally devastating one. Marulk meets and greets everyone who passes through, cares for them, and then helps send them on their way.
In other words Marulk, more often than not, sends people to their deaths. When Marulk says goodbye to Riko and Reg, they know that goodbye is final.
Marulk reappears in the balloon montage to mend the balloon when it catches on a tree outside of the Seeker Camp. They spot the balloon first, take it in, mend it, and release it at the edge of The Great Fault just as they did with Riko and Reg earlier in the series.
We don’t know how many balloons or people Marulk has helped mend, but their reappearance in Riko’s return is surprisingly poignant — moreso than Nat and Shiggy, Riko’s old friends, finding the balloon at the end. Marulk is able to reconnect with Riko once more and become a part not only of her journey, but her return home.