Colleen Laird

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

Japanese media and gender studies
Gendered image production, gendered reception, and women in industry
Video games, new media, streaming media, animation (anime), and comics (manga)
Paratexts: distribution, exhibition, and production materials
Film theory, genre theory, transnational cinemas and star texts, and feminist and queer theory

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

No longer Dazai : the re-authoring and "character-ification" of literary celebrity in contemporary Japanese popular culture (2023)

Dazai Osamu (1909–1948) is a celebrated Japanese author who is most known for his postwar novels of despair and decadence, such as The Setting Sun (1947) and No Longer Human (1948). He is recognized as one of the literary greats by the academy and his work has been praised by scholars and critics. However, his star image also has a familiar presence in mass culture and his texts have been labelled as popular literature for anomic youth who are struggling to define themselves. While Dazai’s place in canonical literature is well established, I argue that it is Dazai’s multi-faceted, mutable image as a decadent anomic figure that has been mobilized by popular culture networks to expand his star text, adapt it to new mediums, and generate interest among youths in the historical “original.”I first contextualize Dazai’s literary celebrity in his historical moment of early twentieth-century Japan to highlight how the author self-fashioned himself as a social outcast vis-à-vis the literary establishment, and how the details of his life and death have been “re-authored” by publishers and readers to intensify his image as an anomic figure. Specifically, I engage in paratextual analysis to see how reprints of No Longer Human emphasize narratives of autobiography, suicide, and youth literature; and how this, in turn, has led to Dazai’s star text becoming synonymous with the novel and its protagonist, Ōba Yōzō.Then, through a close reading of the multimedia series Bungō Stray Dogs (2013–) and Bungō and Alchemist (2016–), I explore how Dazai’s “character-ification” has embodied the author’s abstract image in the collective imagination and brought it into in the world of manga, anime, and video games. Because the author-characters are constructed from biographical details with new elements added on top, there is still room for audiences to translate the semiotic signs assigned to each character. This has made Dazai visually “knowable” to audiences and encouraged many fans to seek out the original author. In this fashion, popular culture adaptations of literary star texts have played a significant role in revitalizing youth interest in modern Japanese literature and its authors.

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When machines long for human warmth: Nier: Automata and the player-game relationship (2022)

For a time in the 2010s, there was a heated public debate regarding video games’ potential for and ability to tell stories. This decade also saw an influx of meta games, in which video game conventions and gameplay mechanics are directly referred to within the game’s narrative, blurring the line between plot and programming. A central claim of this thesis is that there is no such line – video games are technology imbued with narrative, code written with ideology. Through a close reading of the 2017 Japanese video game Nier: Automata (Square Enix), I examine how the posthuman themes in its narrative entwine with its meta-references to tell a story about how affect pulls together players and games, and humans and technology. I first focus on structure of the game, which utilizes the narrative technique of focalization to show the same sequence of events from the perspectives of different characters, or “focalizers.” Combined with shifting camera perspectives and gameplay styles, this is structured to be a destabilizing experience for the player. The result is a meta-narrative about the player, who navigates the confusion to make sense of fragmented experiences. In this way, the player becomes a part of the game’s story, highlighting how players and games temporarily merge during play. This close relationship between players and games established through the game’s structure is then extrapolated onto the theoretical framework of the posthuman. What emerges is an exploration of what remains of the self when technology challenges the conventional concept of a stable, singular, and self-evident identity. The game’s answer is affect – portrayed to be the origin of subjectivity and the force that brings together disparate bodies and consciousnesses. Told through gameplay and structure as well as art and writing, this is how affect manifests in a video game, a piece of technology, and entangles the player.

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Member of G+PS
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