Simple. The difference between US media and anime is that the Motion Picture Association of America monopoly does not apply to anime. The MPAA ratings in theaters in the US mean that the movie conforms to sets of guidelines, in order to be shown in the US. Anime aren’t made under this system.
MPAA movie plots aren’t stereotypes, but they have limited options. After watching a lot of US movies, one begins to get the idea of what can or can’t happen next. Realism isn’t one of the requirements for these ratings, nor is production quality. In my opinion, nothing is worse when watching a show than watching a badly written, predictable movie for $5 to $10, and wasting 90+ minutes of my life. Also, the propaganda gets tiresome very fast. Anime aren’t infested with propaganda, and the characters are free to act realistically, considering the circumstances.
On the other hand, anime can suck, too, and there are some very bad anime out there. Spending $300 for 24 22-minute episodes of awful isn’t very good, either. So it’s a good idea to look at reviews before purchasing. The capsule descriptions from the US licensed distributor aren’t very good for this. Some advertising person watched the first episode and guessed what the series was like from that.
I like quality action-adventure and science fiction shows. With rare exceptions, if I didn’t like it, it’s not listed here. Some of the exceptions are here for contrast. I got stuck watching them, and they make a great bad example. Most of the exceptions are US movies.
Another note: Purists watch anime in Japanese, with English subtitles. Sometimes I don’t review the English dub. Sometimes the English dubs are really awful partial mistranslations, such a total waste of time to watch that there isn’t any point. I will usually point this out when it is the case.
Here’s what I look for in anime:
What genre is it? Hard science fiction is a story with equipment that you could theoretically build. Fantasy science fiction is written around technology that works for no known reasons. Far-future science fiction will include equipment that might be possible later, but not now.
How realistically do the characters act, given the circumstances? Do they blindly follow a plot, for no good reason, or do they respond to things in their environment within the limits of their personalities and abilities?
How realistic are the circumstances of the story? Do the rules keep changing, like a Hollywood movie, or does the same equipment work the same way throughout the entire series? The stormtroopers in the first Star Wars movie, for example, can’t hit “good guys.” If they could hit little bitty Jawas, one would expect them to be able to hit Han Solo and that great big beast that was following him around. Or, at least, some near-misses should have sheared some hair off Chewbacca now and then. All a stormtrooper had to do was stand still, assume a two-handed shooting stance, aim, and fire at the center of mass, like they were all taught in military training. On the other hand, the gear and tactics used in Bubblegum Crisis Original Animated Videos works the same in each episode, with gradual improvements as the equipment is upgraded. The “good guys” depend on good personal combat tactics to avoid getting hit, not frantically running away, down the middle of a wide corridor.
How well does the story hang together? Does it look convincing, or is it obvious that something else should happen, given the characters’ personalities, abilities, and circumstances? In other words, are there major plot errors, or is the pacing screwy?