A very odd bird indeed, full of contradictions. It's a light, cute, pastel-coloured story about the slow death of humanity. It's either hilarious, boring or both, depending on who you talk to. It's full of ideas, but apparently uninterested in character for most of its running time.
I didn't like it, to my surprise, until the last four episodes fixed all my problems and made me want to rewatch the series again in the light of what I'd learned. I think I'd like it more if I did. The series happens roughly in reverse chronological order, you see, with the true order of its story arcs being as follows:
The Fairies' Secret Tea Party (episodes 11 & 12)
The Fairies' Earth (episode 10)
The Fairies' Time Management (episodes 7 & 8)
The Fairies' Homecoming (episodes 5 & 6)
The Fairies' Secret Factory (episodes 1 & 2)
The Fairies' Subculture (episodes 3 & 4)
The Fairies' Survival Skills (episode 9)
In broadcast order, I'd been assuming that the main character was a bloodless, cynical bitch who didn't care about anything. She's impeccably polite (albeit in a slightly stilted way that made Tomoko say "ah, an adaptation of a Light Novel series"), but it's the kind of politeness that feels like a barrier between her and the world. She's stand-offish. Episode one sees her abusing her status to cover up her own mistakes. She's judgemental and doesn't seem to like anyone.
What's more, all the humans are like that, or worse. Her boss doesn't give a damn and appears to be dead inside. Her assistant never talks and has no personality. These people, for me, basically killed the series because I couldn't bring myself to care about any story they were in. After all, they didn't either. The main character's merely doing her job (fairy mediator for the United Nations) and neither she nor anyone else appears to have any emotional investment in anything that happens. There's no drama. It's just an intellectual exercise.
These people don't even have names. The main character is "me", her assistant is "Assistant", her boss is "Grandfather", etc.
However I'd reckoned without the chronological wibbly-wobbly. Assistant gets an origin story, in which we learn about his background and see him choosing his non-personality. No, really. (In broadcast order, this marks the point where he disappears from the show.) Similarly, episodes 9-12 suddenly start getting into the psychology, origins and motivations of "me" and the fairies. We see their relationships. We learn that it's not just your imagination, but instead that "me" is even more emotionally broken than you'd have guessed and that her school days were haunting and lonely, through her own choice. Those episodes astonished me.
...and then the series ended. What?
So, what's it about, then? It's set in a distant future, with mankind about to become extinct. (This has particular resonance in Japan, where a plummetting birthrate has created a demographic time bomb that threatens their entire economy.) However it's going to be a very peaceful, gentle extinction. It's no one's fault, really. There just aren't enough people left to sustain civilisation. The last schools recently closed. Electricity is rationed. If you see a car, it'll probably be steam-powered. People are occasionally in danger of starving to death, but no one seems too fussed about that. Besides, this all takes place in a pretty, pastel-coloured Mittel-European rural setting, of a kind where you might expect Johanna Spyri's Heidi to come dancing over the hill from Switzerland. It looks a bit like Little Snow Fairy Sugar.
There are also fairies. They're small enough to sit in the palm of your hand and they have magical powers. They're simple-minded and fun-loving, but they're also a bit of a pain in the neck because they're powerful enough to twist reality into pretzels for laughs. They also reproduce like amoeba if they're happy. This has nothing to do with sex. They just spawn duplicates of themselves, as if they grew from mushroom spores. Tell a fairy a joke and you might find, two minutes later, that there are suddenly three of him.
The fairies like "me", because she gives them sweets. This is a mixed blessing for "me", who doesn't want to get involved with time paradoxes, robot cat girls, other-dimensional manga, etc.
There are all kinds of jokes in this. Some are explosively wacky, others are very clever and others still are cynically bleak. The underlying paradox of the series is that it's a flippant, kiddie-styled presentation of racial extinction. You can have a Disney-style talking loaf of bread... that then commits traumatic suicide. Grandad has dozens of guns on his wall. "Me"'s first job in the show is to to turn a flock of chickens into meat. There's a throwaway in episode seven where fairies seem to be playing football with a severed head. I could imagine Douglas Adams having a ball writing this (had he still been alive), especially with gags like the fairies' often inappropriate outlook on life.
Some of this is passing comment on our real-life failings. Episode 9 is a fictional account of mankind's environmental tragedy on Easter Island, but with silly fairies.
Then we have the wild ideas. Plucked, oven-ready chickens want to conquer the world. An alternate reality is a deconstruction of manga, so you only advance by doing something dramatic and you'll die if your life isn't entertaining. It's fairly explosive.
Put all this together and you get about half a dozen shows, all mutually unrecognisable. Some people think this is an adorable show with smiley fairies. Others dislike the lack of a story. (This is either moronic or accurate, depending on your point of view.) Others find the show hilarious and are less keen on the more character-based material in later episodes. Is this show cute or bleak? (Answer: both.) Is it funny? (In my opinion, sometimes.)
It's a gentle, bucolic look at the disintegration of human civilisation. It's a whimsical look at our own extinction, because people are lazy, selfish idiots... but maybe the world will be better and healthier when only the fairies are left? It's a comedy that's using fantasy to say dark things about reality. (Especially children. See episodes 11-12.) It's pastel-hued survivalism, with a bit of SF, some clever gags and usually well-hidden teeth. However the dark stuff is mostly under the surface and the show's polite, well-spoken and family-friendly, apart from the dance in the title sequence that always makes me think that "me" and the fairies are imitating sexual intercourse. (Maybe that's deliberate, given the show's subject matter?) Nonetheless, this looks like something you'd see on children's TV, but slower and gentler. And, to be honest, more boring. You could show this series to small children and grandparents, although by the end you might have done their heads in.
I disliked the majority of it, but I now want to rewatch it in chronological order. It's fascinating, but also by turns dull, funny, clever (albeit often without being entertaining) and, above all, odd.