*Major spoilers ahead!

Yuyu Kitamura chooses to shine in Dead Boy Detectives, Netflix’s newest adaptation from the world of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. She’s choosing to shine in real life too. Via Zoom, the actress talked with EnVi about loneliness, chosen family, and the future of Niko and the Dead Boy Detective Agency.

Leaving Behind Loneliness

Yuyu Kitamura plays Niko, a whimsical and pastel loving high school student who left school after her father died and took refuge in one of the apartments above a butcher shop in Port Townsend, Washington. She joins up with the ghostly detectives Edwin Payne and Charles Rowland and their clairvoyant partner Crystal Palace after they save her from possession by pixies.

Photos by Rosaline Shahnavaz for Netflix

The color and whimsy that the four characters bring to the show is distinctive, but what unites them is their shared loneliness, Kitamura expressed. “I think each character goes through their own journey of loneliness and what loneliness means to them because they all kind of start at a place of loneliness…And I think also, that’s their commonality, but they’re choosing to stick together through the hard times.”

For Kitamura, her connection to Niko was the shared experience of feeling loneliness. “I myself was in this new environment, meeting all these new people,” she explained. “And I think it was almost fitting that Nico joined that group when she did, because in the pilot we barely see me, and so George, Jaden, and Kassius really got to know each other. And sort of like the show, Niko comes in, and sort of in real life, I came into the mix. And they were so accepting and wonderfully kind to me.”

Choosing Family

For Yuyu, finding her family in the world of Dead Boy Detectives also meant that Niko was her family. “Niko resonated with me in the sense that she is my younger sister. I very much had so much care and I protected her at all costs,” she said. That same protection that Kitamura offered her character came to Niko in the show as well.

Photos shot by Rosaline Shahnavaz for Netflix

Niko’s loneliness is based in the loss of her father and isolation from her mother. Kitamura said that Niko’s “journey of loneliness and grief” is something that is somewhat explored, and that audiences are able to see her “choosing to open herself up to these people and…choosing to make friends.”

“At the start of the season, we find her so isolated and alone. And she has no concept of what it is to really find your people and by the end of the show she’s fully given her life to these people that she’s just met,” Kitamura explained. “We see how she learns to find her chosen family.”

The Importance of Love and Light

Niko in the show is a die-hard romantic. She sets up Jenny the butcher with a librarian who writes her love letters. She clues in to Edwin’s crush on Charles and encourages it. She reads romance mangas and decorates her room with posters of couples and hearts. Like Niko, Yuyu says she “loves love.” 

“I love watching people be in love,” but she explained even more. “I love that love isn’t just romantic. Love is platonic. Love is self love. And I believe that all of those different variations of love are so important.”

The importance of love in both her and Niko’s lives isn’t lost on Kitamura. “Anytime Niko is setting up people or watching people fall in love, I feel very similar to her,” she said. “I just wish I was a better matchmaker. I haven’t matchmade anyone yet, but with Niko’s track record, I don’t know if I’ll be any better,” she joked.

Photo courtesy of Rosaline Shanavaz for Netflix

“I love that love isn’t just romantic. Love is platonic. Love is self love.

— Yuyu Kitamura

Despite Niko’s less-than-stellar matchmaking record, her efforts to bring light and positivity to the people around her are crucial to the Dead Boy Detective Agency and the people of Port Townsend. Despite the darkness she and her friends face, she still stays loving, kind, and full of light.

“I think with that kind of optimism that she constantly carries and her perspective on the world and the people around her, she’s constantly choosing to be good and choosing to see the best in everybody else,” Kitamura shared.

Existing Together

Speaking about Niko’s positivity, Yuyu said “That kind of quality is something that I’m choosing to move forward in the world with.” That’s not the only part of Niko that Kitamura is taking forward with her, as she sees herself in Niko.

Their similar backgrounds of being Japanese and going to school in the U.S. made Niko feel closer to who Yuyu is as a person. “She is Japanese and we have those qualities and those cultural things that she inhabits, but also she is fully her own person,” she shared. “I thought it was such a refreshing character to get to play because growing up I didn’t really see much of that on screen.”

Being her own person was crucial not only to Niko throughout the season, but to Yuyu professionally as well. Prior to Dead Boy Detectives, she produced, directed and starred in her own short film Invited In. The determination to lead a project like that could be seen in Niko’s journey. “I feel like this season she was being brave, as brave as she could be. But now that we know she can risk her life for her friends, I want to see where that might take her,” Yuyu shared.

While Niko will have to wait in the astral plane in an igloo to show more of her bravery, Yuyu Kitamura is looking forward to more projects. “I would love to do a 180 and kind of do an indie project, you know? Something that feels grounded…where there aren’t many visual effects. But also at this point I just want to work.”

Keep up with Yuyu Kitamura on her Instagram and watch Dead Boy Detectives on Netflix!

Want more stories with the dark and supernatural? Check out our Thai Horror Guide!