ADHD as Investigation: How Hyouka’s Chitanda carves space for herself as a leader

By: Zeldaru February 19, 20210 Comments
Chitanda surrounded by cherry blossoms with a surprised expression

Spoilers for Hyouka

ADHD is often maligned as strictly a lack of the willpower necessary to concentrate, or a simple inability to ignore distractions. However, this condition is not simply a life-constricting limitation, and can actually lead to greater creativity and problem-solving skills stemming from unconventional ways of thinking and seeing the world. Many fictional characters that show ADHD-like characteristics reflect this tendency, such as Chitanda Eru of the 2012 mystery anime Hyouka. Through her investigations, Chitanda exhibits behaviors characteristic of ADHD that contribute to, rather than hamper, her ability to lead herself and others. 

During the cultural festival arc, for instance, Chitanda is noticeably distracted from securing a better location for her club to sell their book. Instead of withdrawing, Chitanda draws her focus to the full breadth of the festival. For a strong performance in karuta, she is awarded with an ostentatious medal, reflecting an earnest desire for festive participation. Chitanda even receives great praise for her meticulous food preparation in the club cooking competition, only to later collapse from exhaustion. Rather than simply reflecting a love of cooking, these efforts describe the sensation of hyperfocus, where you pour so much energy into a task that it becomes all-consuming. 

Here, hyperfocus is not necessarily a detriment. Through her passionate nature, Chitanda is able to influence her surroundings, which is demonstrated throughout the show. These actions create an environment where everyone can look out for those who do not fit the norm, including herself—something that’s a major goal of accessibility. Chitanda’s ADHD-coding presents a powerful case study for understanding how to include people and support their growth.

Far from flighty or unreliable, people with ADHD can be commanding individuals with the right support. Though Chitanda initially struggles to ask favors, she discovers how to seek guidance from others. During the culture festival arc, wherein Chitanda must represent her club in a dynamic public environment, she seeks the advice of Irisu, a childhood friend and well-connected figure.

Members of the club looking at tall stacks of paper

Specifically, the Classics Club had received a large excess of their Hyouka anthology but lacked the means to sell all of their copies during the festival. Chitanda just jumps into the conversation by asking for help selling the anthology, leading a confused Irisu to request a sample copy. Irisu then guides Chitanda in asking people for favors indirectly rather than simply using intense focus in the matter at hand. Cracks soon emerge in this method: a few episodes into the arc, while sprawled on the floor, she realizes that asking for favors is incredibly exhausting.

Living with ADHD means that doing tasks in an undesirable way is actively draining rather than simply a nuisance. Some advice conceived only from a “normal” perspective can in fact be counterproductive. After seeing Chitanda struggle, Irisu admits that her advice was not appropriate for Chitanda and suggests using getting to the point – which is connected to hyperfocus – as a peerless weapon. Through struggling with the original advice, Chitanda grows in understanding what does and does not suit her skill sets. In other words, a ‘practical’ leadership style, despite serving many people reasonably well, may not suit people with ADHD. But people with ADHD can be tremendous leaders in their own right, even while flaunting this norm.

Though the cultural festival highlights Chitanda’s leadership, the show actually begins with a long-unresolved personal story. At first, she alone remembers her uncle Sekitani Jun, the central figure of the club that brings the main characters together; without her attention, his life’s efforts would be forgotten. By sharing her memories with others, Chitanda is able to probe her intimate feelings while enriching the lives of the Classics Club members, including herself. 

When Chitanda first meets Oreki, one of the show’s other leads, she demonstrates characteristically meticulous attention to her environments. When he enters the club room, she shifts sharply from staring out the window and approaches him. Her intense gaze is symbolized as a series of entanglements ensnaring Oreki, reflecting his genuine surprise at her action. In contrast to her polite reputation, she demonstrates a curiosity far more gripping than most. But this behavior is, as seen from Oreki’s reaction, quite intimidating.

Oreki tangled in ribbons of Chitanda's hair

Chitanda often quickly reorients her behavior in response to environmental stimuli, which is why her inquisitive reactions are so surprising to others. This pattern of behavior — which includes pacing, standing very close, and eyes flashing — is not simply quirky. For example, in the library book mystery of episode 2, Chitanda reveals her acute sense of smell allows her to notice faded odors such as paint thinner that the rest of the cast cannot. As a result, she spends much of the episode focusing intently on the smell coming from the book under examination. This task consumes all of her attention, highlighting how her hyperfocus interacts with her senses. By contrast, the next episode, where she has a cold, Chitanda plays a more passive role, reflecting how her sense of smell guides her focus.

At first, Chitanda’s attention centers on the mystery underlying the Hyouka anthology, published by the Classics Club—she even becomes the president as part of her pursuit. But she repeatedly describes her situation as a personal matter, preventing her from seeking help. Throughout the show, this resistance to seeking help is dismantled as she works with the Classics Club.

Oreki and Chitanda in a cafe

At a teahouse with Oreki, Chitanda reveals the matter that has haunted her for many years. Before sharing, she spends entire minutes stirring her whipping cream. This is not just her childishly playing with her food, but rather her preparing to share an intimate story, and could be interpreted as stimming, a pattern of repetitive behavior common in people with ADHD and ASD. In particular, her heavy concentration, which could reflect hyperfocus, concerns Oreki, who prods her for an explanation. Finally, Chitanda explains that she has been haunted by the sudden disappearance of her uncle Sekitani Jun several years prior. For many people, given this length of time, this mystery would likely have become forgotten. Now Sekitani has been declared dead, pressing her to resolve the mystery of his past words.

The passion of her inquiry shines through when she stands up. In a flashback, she sobs as her mother comforts her. Strangely, her uncle does not console her, sparking Chitanda’s question: why did she cry? With her uncle’s funeral approaching, she feels pressured to find a satisfying resolution. The Classics Club, which her uncle was a member of 45 years ago, has become her last hope to understand him before he is officially declared dead. 

Chitanda, supported by the investigations of the other club members, offers to lead a meeting at her house. In preparation, she develops a thorough collection of research on her uncle. Serving as a facilitator here allows Chitanda to connect her desire for a resolution to accomplishing her objectives. Despite her inexperience, she receives gentle support from the other characters in guiding the discussion, encouraging their collective growth. After everyone else has presented, Oreki combines the theories into an iteration of her uncle’s narrative, positioning Chitanda to understand her own story. 

Her uncle’s presumed death forces Chitanda to finally examine her true feelings, rather than distant memories. Through tears, she explains that the idea of being alive but unable to even scream had terrified her. Finally, Chitanda could express her accumulated dread, alleviating tension within herself. Many people with ADHD struggle with sharing their intimate feelings, especially when these feelings emerge from deep-seated fixations. Chitanda expressing these feelings, which allows her to lay her uncle to rest, reflects the power of breaking free of this barrier. Now, as club leader, she is ready to create a book on her uncle’s story.

Chitanda crying

As this arc shows, Chitanda resolves her personal conflict directly by guiding her Classics Club through and past its foundational history. The arc’s finale captures the dedication Chitanda has put into this long quest, which has followed her for her entire life. One major question lingers until the end of the episode: why did Chitanda, who struggled even to involve Oreki at first, ask the club to participate? 

Reading Chitanda through a neurodivergent lens helps craft an answer: this story would become personal history eventually, so she wished to record and understand it, even if she ended up having regrets. By making her uncle’s story a mystery for the club to solve, she finally gained a way to process her vivid memories. 

A great leader creates space for genuinely creative thinking. Though Chitanda features a specific form of neuroatypicality, her leadership carves space for a myriad of ways of unconventional thinking. As an inspirational figure, she calls attention to subtle but essential details. Her fervent usage of the catchphrase “I’m curious” and other behaviors, such as leaning in or staring, guides the rest of the cast in learning how to look for answers.

The Classics club meeting

Throughout this arc, Chitanda sharpens her ability to share her thoughts. At the show’s start, even mentioning the name Sekitani Jun is difficult for Chitanda. By involving the rest of the Classics Club, she could put her uncle to rest before his funeral instead of dismissing her feelings as simply a “personal matter.” By mobilizing these feelings, Chitanda guides their collective growth, allowing them to create a book describing her uncle’s story.

If Chitanda had not intervened, the book named “Hyouka” would  have never been produced.  In turn, as symbolized by the Hyouka anthology, Chitanda creates an environment where people can complement each other and ameliorate one another’s limitations, which reflects the goals of accessibility. Through this positive role-modeling, Chitanda’s example counters the notion that people with ADHD cannot lead meaningful lives, providing empowerment to viewers.

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