Contrary to popular belief, Niju is not just a poorly-recycled version of Steele, but rather, he is his own character entirely.
One of the lesser-educated complaints about Wolf Quest is that Niju is just a failed attempt of "Steele as a wolf". However, that statement is far from accurate. Though Steele and Niju do have a few minor similarities, the differences outweigh them by far.
So before I fret about their differences, just what ARE the similarities of Steele and Niju that cause some to deem them "clones"? Well...
1.) They're both the "bad guys" of their stories.
2.) They have a dark color scheme and blue eyes.
3.) They have eyepatches.
...and that's about it. Is that really enough to make them clones? Hint: the answer is NO, because there is a LOT more to these guys than just dark colors and eyepatches.
Here are the sillhouettes of Steele and Niju. Vastly different. Looking at the the sillhouettes alone, it is very easy to tell that these are two very different characters indeed. Steele has small paws and musclar legs with a straight back and well-groomed coat. Niju, on the other hand, has HUGE paws, thin legs, a sloping back, and a MUCH scruffier, wilder appearance.
But, if that's not enough, let's get a little deeper.
Niju has a longer, somewhat slimmer proflie than Steele, along with a larger, much rounder chin, and the hook on his muzzle is nearer to his eyes and is overall a bit more prevalent than Steele's. Said hook is accompanied by a fluff of fur. You may also want to note how the lighter markings wrap around his eyepatches twice before breaking off into the cheek fur, while Steele's wrap only once. Let's not even bother mentioning the obvious whiskers and bridge marking differences.
Steele's muzzle hook is nearer to his nose and is smooth, lacking the tuft of fur that Niju's has. He also has a very prevalent lower lip.
Steele's ears are also very small and angular. His cheek fur remains rather closer to his angular face.
Niju's ears are larger in comparison to his body: about the same of that of the normal wolves. His scruffier cheek fur juts out from the side of his face far further than Steele's dose.
Now, one very interesting thing that I've found about these two characters is their eyebrows (or equivalents of.)
Niju's browline, like Balto's, Jenna's, Aleu's, and that of MANY other characters, is the separation between the lighter part of his face and the darker part.
Steele's, however, is the lighter part of the face itself (this is one of my personal favorite aspects of Steele's character design):
If Steele's brows were defined in the same was as those of Niju and the others, they'd look more like this:
Just doesn't have the same effect, does it? Steele's brows are a very interesting trait rather unique to him.
Remember how I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons that the two are claimed so similar was that their color scheme?
...well, their color schemes aren't quite so identical after all. Even their eyes, though both blue, are very different shades.
And now that the design stuff's taken care of, let's talk about their personalities!
Yeah, they're both the bad guys, but very different bad guys they are.
Steele is a proud, arrogant lead dog who has run and won many races and is one of the most popular dogs in Nome. He's shown to be a flirt and confident in his abilities and he looooves to be the center of attention--a "glory hound", as Jenna called it. He also looks down on those who he percieves as lower than he, such as Balto, the poor stray wolfdog, and bullies them relentlessly. His motivation as the "villain" is his ego itself, starting of course with the bullying of our oh-so-dear protagonist. Steele wants to be the best, he wants to be the hero, he wants all the glory...and so when Balto challenges that the sled crash site, Steele won't stand for it. We all know what happens next.
Niju, on the other hand, is a young, subordinant wolf from a pack (or "clan", as they call it in WQ). In Nava's words, "Niju is not a coward and he is not afraid to die. But, he is afraid of change." And in the end, Niju's motivation as the "villain" stems from that fear. He knew that change was coming and his fear took over. He fought with all his might to prevent the change, even resorting to convincing nearly his entire clan to steal from others. But in the end, Balto's words called more strongly to the clan than those of Niju, and they decided to cross the ice bridge. Niju, in his stubborn nature, refuses to go ("I'll never leave our lands! Never!") and gets left behind.
Yeah...remind me why he's a "clone" again? XD
Well, congratulations, you did it! You should now know how to tell Steele and Niju apart without a problem! Have a bone!